Frequently Asked Questions: Starry Skies

JOIN US
Apostle Islands Starry Skies Initiative logo featuring silhouette of Honeymoon Rock and a starlit dark sky

What is the Starry Skies Initiative? The Starry Skies Initiative is an effort by the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to raise awareness of the beauty of the night sky over the Apostle Islands and the need for communities in the Chequamegon Bay area to work together to protect that resource.

How bad is the light pollution problem? Worldwide, nearly 80 percent of the human population lives in areas where the Milky Way is not visible due to light pollution. In the U.S. the night sky is dimmed for over 90 percent of our population. Recent studies indicate that light pollution is increasing at least 10 percent each year around the world. 

What are the effects of light pollution? A growing body of scientific evidence links the brightening night skies to increasing risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, breast cancer and more in humans. It shows dangers for wildlife including disruption of migratory behaviors, changes in breeding cycles, unnatural growth patterns in plants, and increased susceptibility to predators. 

What is the situation like in the Apostle Islands? The Apostle Islands have some of the darkest, most pristine night skies remaining in the Midwest. The clarity of night skies is measured on the nine level “Bortle Scale” with the darkest skies given a rating of 1 and the most light-affected areas such as cities rated as 9. Areas rated 1 on the Bortle Scale in the U.S. include such places as Alaska’s Denali National Park, Death Valley National Park in California, Big Bend National Park in Texas, and parts of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. While official light readings are yet to be completed in the Apostle Islands, the encroachment of lights from along the South Shore of Wisconsin and the North Shore of Minnesota likely put the Apostle Islands in the Bortle 2 range of dark skies.

What can be done to help? Working to solve light pollution does not mean living in the dark. It simply involves all of us looking closely at the range of outdoor lights at our homes, at our businesses, in our communities, and ensuring that each light source falls under the “Five Principles of Responsible Outdoor Lighting” as stipulated by the International Dark Sky Association as shown in the following graphic.

5 Principles of Responsible Outdoor Lighting graphic - lighting should be 1) Useful, 2) Targeted, 3) Low Level, 4) Controlled, 5) Warm Colored

Graphic by Dark Sky International

When changing lightbulbs or installing new outdoor light fixtures, consider the growing number of “Dark Sky Certified” bulbs and fixtures on the market that will give you the light you need, be cost effective, and help keep the stars shining brightly (product list can be found at www.darksky.org). If you own a business, inspect your lighting at that location. Hooded lighting and lower wattage bulbs can be just as safe and even more cost effective. Ask the businesses that you patronize to consider dark sky lighting to save money and protect dark skies. Ask your local town and county boards and planning commissioners to consider a dark sky ordinance that will highlight the economic and ecological benefits (template ordinances available at www.darksky.org.)

Isn’t it more expensive? Studies show that by directing light where it is most needed (some 30% of light from many outdoor lights is wasted by going straight up), by using only the brightness necessary and not over-lighting, and by using controllers to turn lights off when they are not needed, Dark-Sky approved lighting can actually be more cost effective saving an estimated $3.3 billion annually if all U.S. outdoor lighting was Dark Sky approved. 

Isn’t more light safer? Studies show no direct correlation between the amount of light and a reduction in crime. It is the right kind of light in the right places at the right time that is the safest. Directed light illuminating specific areas with fixtures that eliminate blinding glare set on motion detection switches seem to be the most effective at increasing safety. There is no need to sacrifice the stars for our safety. 

Diagram showing various options for a streetlight from worst to best in terms of limiting light pollution - IDA graphic

Graphic by Dark Sky International

What are the goals of the Starry Skies Initiative? Our goals are to raise awareness of and appreciation for the incredible natural resource we have in the dark skies of the Apostle Islands – through programs, presentations, sky-viewing opportunities, photography, astronomy gatherings, and more – and then working with individuals, communities, businesses, and government agencies to ensure that we all use safe, effective, and efficient lighting where possible. That process has already begun at places such as Mount Ashwabay Ski Area and the Bayfield public library.

“By incorporating Dark Sky-approved lighting into our operation, Mount Ashwabay does not have to choose between the safety of the skier and preserving the beauty of the night sky. I believe we can have both.” Doug Olson Outdoor Recreation Program Director Mount Ashwabay Ski & Recreation Area
Starry Skies Testimonial Teresa Weber, Bayfield Carnegie Library

What will change in the Park? Outside of the few mainland facilities, there are few sources of light pollution within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Most of our focus will be on working with surrounding landowners, businesses, and communities to lessen the spill of light pollution into the park. We hope to eventually work with the park to explore the long-term possibility of pursing a Dark Sky Park certification through the International Dark Sky Association so that the Apostle Islands can join the over 200 Dark Sky places in 22 countries on six continents including such places as Voyageurs National Park, the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park in Michigan, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota, and Wisconsin’s only Dark Sky Park in Newport State Park. This will be a 3-to-5-year project including the development of lighting management plans, systematic monitoring in the park, and more but would highlight the Apostle Islands as one of the nation’s few remaining places where the wonders of the dark sky are both recognized and protected, for everyone. 

How can I help? Join the Starry Skies Initiative of Friends of the Apostle Islands on our website. Consider conducting a self-assessment of your home’s outdoor lighting using the Five Principles of Responsible Outdoor Lighting found above or at the Darksky.org website. You can even register your home as a certified dark sky home there as well. Talk to your neighbors. Bring up the topic with your community leaders and officials. Attend star-gazing and dark sky festivals in your area or start your own. Introduce proclamations to your local and state officials (example proclamations found at darksky.org.)

Friends will be publishing various news items about our efforts on our website and on social media. Like our Facebook page to connect with us there. And visit our website often to learn about events, and find a general overview of the Starry Skies Initiative in the “Our Work” section. Together, we can keep the stars shining brightly in the Apostle Islands.

Friends Starry Skies QR Code
Apostle Islands Starry Skies Initiative logo featuring silhouette of Honeymoon Rock and a starlit dark sky

Starry Skies stories

Faces of Friends: artisan Kate Clark supports starry skies

Faces of Friends: artisan Kate Clark supports starry skies

You don’t have to look far to enjoy the beauty of the night sky in the Apostle Islands, just look up. When Friends wanted a design to depict that beauty for our Starry Skies Initiative, we didn’t have to look far either.

We turned to Penny Print Studio, a local boutique, print shop, artisan studio, and creative hub located right on Bayfield’s Manypenny Avenue established in 2022 by Friends supporters Kate and Abe Clark.

read more
Dark Sky Week: from the first lighthouse beacon to the starry skies of today and beyond

Dark Sky Week: from the first lighthouse beacon to the starry skies of today and beyond

Now, 15 years after Weller and his team made that first, iconic image, he reflects on the first time he experienced the star-filled skies above Outer Island. “I had never seen skies like that. It was not lost on me that we were looking at sky that people a hundred years ago… a thousand years ago… would see.” Weller thinks back to the mariners who navigated Lake Superior by the stars before the first lighthouses helped to guide them through stormy seas. “That line from the hymn Amazing Grace echos in my mind immediately. “I once was lost but now I am found.”

read more
How you can celebrate International Dark Sky Week in and around the Apostle Islands

How you can celebrate International Dark Sky Week in and around the Apostle Islands

International Dark Sky Week draws worldwide attention to light pollution, promotes simple solutions and celebrates the irreplaceable beauty of a natural night.

High school student Jennifer Barlow started International Dark Sky Week (IDSW) in 2003. In explaining why she founded the event, Barlow said, “I want people to be able to see the wonder of the night sky without the effects of light pollution. The universe is our view into our past and our vision into the future. I want to help preserve its wonder.”

read more
Canoecopia 2024 includes presentations on protecting our Starry Skies, paddling the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Canoecopia 2024 includes presentations on protecting our Starry Skies, paddling the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

If paddling the amazing sea caves in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is on your bucket list, we invite you to see us at Canoecopia in Madison, Wisconsin, March 8-10, 2024. This annual event includes more than 100 educational presentations and clinics on kayaking, canoeing and related topics, including presentations by Friends Executive Director Jeff Rennicke and Ranger Steve Ballou of the National Park Service. You’ll also be able to learn from the experts what gear you need to safely explore the islands.

read more
Reading the sacred skies: new book offered by Friends

Reading the sacred skies: new book offered by Friends

peaks to both the human connection to the night sky and hopes for its protection.
Spirits Dancing: The Night Sky, Indigenous Knowledge, & Living Connections to the Cosmos features the photography of Travis Novitsky and text by Annette S. Lee. Novitsky, a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, uses his lens to capture the awe and wonder of the northern lights. Lee’s, both an astrophysicist and an artist, uses her text to range across the universe of night sky topics from indigenous knowledge to the science of northern lights and the responsibility of all to help keep our skies dark enough to experience them.

read more
Bayfield’s Carnegie Library embraces dark sky protection with planned lighting changes

Bayfield’s Carnegie Library embraces dark sky protection with planned lighting changes

Bayfield Carnegie Library’s motto is “A compass for curious minds.” One of the primary goals of library director Teresa Weber is to enlighten the public. Right now, Teresa is also trying to “enlighten” the walkways leading to the library without negatively impacting the dark skies over the city. Teresa recently spoke with Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore board member Neil Howk about this upcoming project. Neil also serves on the library board.

read more
Stories that capture the wonder and the possibilities of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are most-read in 2023

Stories that capture the wonder and the possibilities of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are most-read in 2023

As we raise a glass to embrace the new year, we look back fondly on the momentus year that was 2023 for Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and for the park we love. Thanks to your support, hard work by a growing team of passionate volunteers and by the Friends leadership team, we have a lot to celebrate.

With your support we helped more people discover the islands, learn about them, and work to protect them than ever before. We set a record for membership, did more outreach trips, more programs, and successfully completed the largest initiative in our organization’s history: Access for All. And there is even more to celebrate about the park and the people who make good things happen for a quarter million visitors each year.

We hope you enjoy this countdown of the top ten stories of 2023 on the Friends of the Apostle Islands website as a great way to start.

read more
Northern lights celebrated during 6th annual Aurora Summit at Red Cliff

Northern lights celebrated during 6th annual Aurora Summit at Red Cliff

Begun in 2017, the Aurora Summit is an annual gathering and celebration with a mission of helping “people of all backgrounds and experience levels view, photograph, and understand the Northern Lights, while also developing an appreciation for the surrounding art, culture, science and photography of this rare natural phenomenon.”

read more
“Discover the night” in the Apostle Islands during International Dark Sky Week

“Discover the night” in the Apostle Islands during International Dark Sky Week

30 miles away from the mainland, Devils Island and Outer Island offer some incredible views of the Milky Way – and if you’re very fortunate, the spectacular northern lights – thanks to some of the darkest skies in Wisconsin. In fact, most of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore offers great night sky viewing too, although when you look toward the mainland communities, you’ll see the nighttime glow from city lights. That glow is visible from many miles away.

read more