If you want to see stars, head for Beverly Shores, Indiana. Beverly Shores is one of only eight communities in the world to be honored for reducing light pollution. And as our Tom Skilling reports, it’s a simple case of power to the people.
“We’re right on the lake shore, the south end of lake Michigan. This is like a little oasis. It’s quiet, there’s nature. It’s like a portrait you know.” Beverly Shores, Indiana is about an hour from Chicago. And since it’s on the South Shore line, is perfect for Chicago commuters. (train whizzes by) The year round population is around 600, yet it swells to some 1500 in summer. And residents are proud of their environmental spirit. People like Glen Ellyn social workers Rosemary and Alan Bell, who call themselves, “sometimers.”
“We were amazed that this was in Indiana,” says Rosemary. Town council President Geof Benson and the Bells have come to know each other very well over the past five-and-a-half years. That’s how long they’ve been working together to eliminate some street lights and replace the rest. “It was something we could do something about.”
The Bells had read an article about the end of night, and they joined the International Dark Sky Association mentioned in the article. Its purpose is to recognize communities that take extraordinary steps to preserve natural light. “The end of night is that cities are really obliterating the beauty,” says Rosemary Bell. “There are health issues. In this community the average age is 50, and the aging eye has trouble with glare.” With a simple set-up of a lamp, a bowl, and two wooden birds, they took their show on the road, demonstrating to anyone who would listen, why the old street lamps had to go.
“When you provide a full cut-off to the light to eliminate the glare to the viewer, the birds jump right out at you,” says Alan. “Glare, and reduction of glare.” It was clear to the town council what had to be done. “It’s very impressive in that when you have loose light that kind of goes all over, there’s a glare. And it’s kind of blinding like headlights at night coming at you.” “The first night we went in there and did our demonstration for the town council, it was unanimously approved,” says Alan Bell. “The problem was always the money.”
They needed $10,000 to retrofit the street lamps from glaring old cobra head fixtures, to downward facing luminaires. But how do you convince people from a safety standpoint to remove street lamps, and then write checks to replace something in perfect working order? President Benson likes to tell this story. “I remember some of the installers thinking that we’re crazy taking a perfectly good street lamp and replacing it with a new one that just points down. But boy, does it make a difference.”
Rosemary Bells says they got so much money they had to start turning checks away. “The most impressive thing about this whole 5 ½ year process was that 60 residents in Beverly Shores gave us money to retrofit the lights. ”With a new ordinance, a discount deal with their local utility company NIPSCO, and plenty of money, they eliminated 13 street lights and replaced the remaining 48. The Bells couldn’t be more proud. “If you look down Lakefront drive and you see the cut-off lights what you see is light on the ground, not light in the sky. That’s the most dramatic thing.”
And that’s why Beverly Shores became the world’s seventh dark sky community. “It’s a point of pride and I think it’s also an example for other communities,” says President Benson, who is already fielding calls from other cities asking for help with their light pollution. Dr. Bill Gilmer is President of the Association of Beverly Shores residents. “You can see stars more now, can really take in nature. It makes it a much more magical place.”
Alan and Rosemary are proud to call Beverly Shores their second home. “Even if there was no such thing as a dark community designation, I think we’re pretty proud we were able to improve the environment the way we did. It’s more safe and secure.It’s just nice to look at.” “It’s all about being stewards of this beautiful place that we live in.”
Homer Glen, Illinois has been a dark sky community since 2011. And since Beverly Shores joined the ranks, Sedona Arizona has become a dark sky community too. If this appeals to you, you can learn how to become a dark sky community by clicking these links.
Producer Pam Grimes, and Photojournalist Steve Scheuer co-produced this report.