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Small Marin County Town Pushes to Reduce Light Pollution

POINT REYES (KPIX) -- When was the last time you gazed at the stars? If you live in a city, there may not be much to see. But one small town in Marin County is trying to protect its view of the night sky by embracing the darkness.

At sunset in San Francisco, the lights come on and the city gleams like a jewel. It looks a little different in Point Reyes. There's still a light show there, you just have to look a little closer to see it.

"I'm making photographs of what it looked like maybe 100 or 200 years ago." said Point Reyes artist and photographer Marty Knapp.

He specializes in long-exposure photographs. His Main Street studio is filled with incredible images of the Milky Way Galaxy rising up over Marin County. But little of it is visible to the naked eye because of the dome of light we have created over our cities.

"The stars were amazing and magnificent hundreds of years ago, because you didn't have all the ambient light coming down from the cities, streetlights and cars," Knapp explained.

And though it's better than most, that also includes Point Reyes.

"Over the last few years, I've watched the lighting problem build and seen more and more added on," said resident Laura Arndt. "And I think the LED's in the streetlights was the straw that broke the camel's back."

Arndt and her friend Peggy Day are trying to shed light on the importance of not shedding light. They are co-founders of an effort to make the town a "Dark Sky Reserve," where light is only used where it is needed.

"Not all light is light pollution, but light that goes where it isn't intended, or light that's on when it shouldn't be on, light that's where it shouldn't be, that's pollution," said Day.

Most of the LED streetlights throw light everywhere. But one has a shield installed so it still illuminates the street but doesn't blast the house next to it. And of course, there are the glaring spotlights outside the fire station.

But the town has been remarkably agreeable to the initiative, and the firemen say an upcoming renovation will include a switch to shut off the lights when not in use.

But does it really matter if people can see the stars? Don Jolley thinks so.

"That divorce, of being unaware of 50 percent of our view, is symbolic of the divorce we have from the natural world in a bigger sense; that I think lies at the heart of every environmental calamity we're facing on the planet," he said.

Jolley is a self-described "naked-eye astronomer" who leads star-gazing tours for locals. He believes mankind lost its bearings when it lost the stars and now imagines that IT is the center of the universe.

"When I look out there, it makes me feel small. It makes me feel humble," said Jolley. "And it makes me better appreciate the little niche that I do occupy puts me into perspective."

The people of Point Reyes think that's kind of important. They have a vision for what they want their town to be...and it doesn't include the bright lights of the big city.

The days leading up to the end of April have been designated International Dark Sky Week. They're asking people around the world to turn off their lights, go outside, and admire the night sky.

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