The falling of stars 

Is light pollution blotting out Whistler's spectacular night sky?

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY DAVID MCCOLM

Page 5 of 11

Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says that ultimately it's about balance.

"Really it's a balance between providing security and safety, but not overpowering the night sky," she says. "So it's always about low-level lighting and low glare lighting. We really try to avoid light pollution, but of course provide for safer pedestrians at the same time."

But says Wilhelm-Morden, the municipality could be doing a better job, especially in neighbourhoods and areas like Function Junction. However, for all the people asking for less light, she points out that a lot of people are actually asking for more — including lights along the highway and on neighbourhood sideroads for safety reasons.

"I guess it depends on your perspective," she says. "We have to try and achieve a balance between the two things."

She also points out that Whistler is in the tourism industry, and that tourists do appreciate the lights in the village after dark — and by concentrating that experience in the village, she says you don't have to walk very far to see the night sky.

"Where I live in Alpine there are no street lights and the night sky is spectacular," she says. "But if you're in the village you only have to take a walk out to Lost Lake or the golf course to see the stars. Maybe that's something we should be promoting."

Ultimately, preserving the quality of the night sky viewing experience, such as it is, may be a job for the people who live here rather than the provincial government. Within the Whistler 2020 sustainability framework, the issue of the night sky is covered in a brochure titled "Mountains of Difference" produced by the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.

"You can see the stars at night in Whistler," it reads. "Help to reduce light pollution, energy use and emissions by turning off lights — sit back and enjoy the night sky."

Speaking for the stars

Amateur astronomers John Nemy and Carol Legate need no introduction to people who have lived in Whistler for a while. In the 1990s they used to host slide shows and telescope viewings from the top of Blackcomb Mountain before moving to Ontario for a brief period to conduct astronomy tours at a winery. They returned to Whistler after the Millennium and picked up where they left off by hosting events like star talks and outdoor events. One event held by the Whistler Astronomy Club during a close pass by Mars drew hundreds of stargazers to Rainbow Park to look through half a dozen telescopes owned by local enthusiasts.


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