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Turn out the lights: Bon Accord seeking dark sky designation

Photo of the night sky near Elk Point, Alberta. March 7, 2015. Courtesy: Michael Van Der Hoek

EDMONTON — A town just north of Edmonton hopes staying in the dark will light the way to a more prosperous future.

Bon Accord is seeking designation from the International Dark Sky Association, by passing a bylaw to reduce light pollution so it can attract stargazers and generate tourism dollars.

“There are currently no International Dark Sky Communities designated in Canada,” says Patrick Earl, Economic Development Manager with the town. “Dark sky preserves, like Elk Island and Jasper National Park, are designations by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and are national designations.”

READ MORE: Canada home to world’s largest dark-sky preserve

The idea is that reducing the amount of light at night will allow the eye to see more stars and planets in the sky. Earl says Bon Accord is close enough to Edmonton for a day trip, but far enough away to avoid the city’s light pollution.

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“Having a great night sky experience for visitors, only 20 minutes away from a large city such as Edmonton, offers an opportunity for the Capital Region residents to experience something not found in a large city any more.”

Bon Accord began looking at the idea in 2012, as part of the town’s branding and economic development strategy. The town will submit its final application to the IDA in May 2015. Part of the application process included gathering letters of support from elected officials, business and community groups, and other municipalities.

Bon Accord also had to come up with 10 projects that would be deemed worthy of a designation, such as  retrofitting buildings and streets to reduce light, as well as public education programs. The bylaw itself is also one of the 10 projects. The town put up a new digital sign that converts advertising to black and red at night and can be dimmed to cut glare. An existing Communities in Bloom sign was also converted to the dark sky-friendly lighting. Perhaps one of the most ambitious projects is the construction of an observatory, as part of a yet-to-be-funded multi-purpose facility for the community.

The town has been working with the IDA on the list, but admits it’s been quite a task.

“Being a smaller community it is more of a challenge compared to a larger municipality, because we have fewer projects to select from.”

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“After submission of the application IDA reviews and lets us know of acceptance of designation, or changes being required,” says Earl.

Earl adds the overall cost is hard to determine because many of the projects are multi-year or already in place.

The town hopes its effort will not only help draw tourists and businesses, and lead to a higher quality of life for residents, but also provide a template for other communities looking to reduce energy consumption and light pollution.

READ MORE: Saving the night: Light pollution a serious concern for human health and wildlife

“The designation brings awareness, we believe, to the importance of light pollution abatement and the benefits of environmental stewardship of the nighttime ecosystem,” says Earl.

Nine communities are already dark sky designated: the Isle of Sark in the English Channel; the Isle of Coll in Scotland; and seven U.S. communities, including Flagstaff and Sedona in Arizona.

WATCH: Video from Parks Canada on Jasper National Park’s dark sky preserve

With files from The Canadian Press

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