Now that the days are shorter, I have decided to appreciate the night. Fortunately, living in Rangeley I can do that by just looking up at the stars. Living in these beautiful woods, this is just one of the many things one might take for granted, and that not everyone is privy to. It’s also one of those things we will all lose if we don’t take care.
I spoke to volunteer Dr. Sarah England about how she came to consider the importance of this issue.
“So I’m a volunteer. I don’t work for Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, but I’m volunteering because I think it’s a really cool cause and something fun that can give a community connection back to the school. So I kind of have some ideas around that and brought it to David (Miller) after seeing the documentary and I just said, is there anything I could do to get involved and so that’s how I got looped into that.”
Sarah’s children have done some activities with Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust (RLHT) in the past, so she was familiar with some of their efforts and thought this would be “kind of cool to get involved with”. She connected with Linda Dexter who is spearheading it for Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, working with the International Dark-Sky Association’s (IDA) application process.
The IDA partners with interested towns to figure out what changes should be addressed and how to go about implementing those changes.
“Rangeley would be able to be listed as a Dark Sky certified location, which for the area from a business perspective would really give this area another clientele for people coming.”

Dr. Sarah England in her backyard, a wonderful place for her and her family to stargaze. Stephanie Dellavalle

She added that she thought it may also fill in the shoulder season time frames where not as many people are visiting for the usual reasons. “Like in the early Spring where there’s not a lot of people coming into the area because it’s mucky and it’s not great skiing and it’s not great lake time but dark-sky viewing is amazing. I mean the last three or four nights have been spectacular. So for the people in the world who are really interested in dark skies and locations that let you enjoy the night in a different way than you would anywhere else in the world, this is a unique location in the Northeast. There are a few across the US, like South and then West, but it’s way less inhabited out there, right? Here in this area of the Northeast, where they have Katahdin, and a big area over there successfully Dark Sky certified, and then here in the Rangeley Lakes region is just like a gem and Dark Sky Certification is sort of a special thing that that can be had. And so this certification is not a huge heavy lift.”
From what England had gathered, due to the pandemic, prior pushes on this effort got stalled, but that the time has come for more of a reinitiation of the effort. “And I think it’s got a little more muscle this time. There’s a couple of volunteers. There’s a lot of people interested in getting the designation. It could be good for renting. It could be good for camping. Bringing people to the area both in season and off seasons and just maybe slightly different personality types coming into the area too, which would be a nice balance I think with some of the daytime go getters out there.”
England mentioned how Linda Dexter had asked her to accompany her to a meeting as someone who had a scientific background.

Maximus Farrar (left) and Oliver England (right) (Solar Eclipse banner)

England is a neuroscientist and a biophysicist by training and has worked in Neuroimmunology for over 17 years.
She explained how this relates to dark skies. “My doctoral training was with the retina and I literally sat in a dark room for five years.” She would use a laser so that she could make single photon experiments. “I studied some of the neurons in the eye, they’re called photoreceptors. And so I have a very good understanding of the retina, how it responds to photon exposure. How it dark adapts and how  glare is a very real and potentially dangerous situation. Not in the sense of being a medical danger, but when your retina gets bleached, like I’m sure people experience when they drive and they get blinded by very bright lights, it takes a bit to recover. A few minutes at least. And it actually takes about 40 to get back to really where you would need to be from a safe driving perspective. It’s interesting to mesome of the lighting changes in the world in the last 10-15 years; [for example, bright lights like LEDs, flood lights without timers and high lumen lighting]. No one asked scientists before for example buying lights for emergency vehicles and stuff like that. But they’ll technically bleach your retina and there’s nothing that can restore visual acuity but a chemical reaction that takes 15 minutes and then a maximum saturation/recovery is about 40 minutes. So the ‘Nerdtasticness’ of my background kind of measured up nicely, I think, with the dark skies.”

Sarah Murphy (left) and Penelope Farrar (right) (Rangeley Dark Sky Banner)

Simple language used for explaining to interested parties what would be required to help be considered for IDA certification was discussed at various meetings Dexter and England attended. “Because technically the light should be pointing downward, right? They shouldn’t be pointing up into the sky. and it’s interesting because IDA didn’t actually have language on it.” So the appropriate choice of words such as “tilting” or “tipping” lights was discussed, but for the most part, just drawing people’s attention is an important and relatively easy first step. “So that was all, it really wasn’t major changes that needed to occur in Rangeley. Really not. You know, it’s quite minimal. But it’s great that there’s such support. I think everyone here loves the heritage of the dark skies. And for me, a parent, I’ve got two children in the school system. We moved here to put our kids in the school system because we were in just an oversaturated, enormous school, and we really wanted something smaller. And what I love about this area is that, you know you have that capability to really, truly make a community connection with the up-and-comers for the future.”

Everett England (left) and Patrick Murphy (right) (solar system umbrella and astronaut)

With guidance of Rangeley Lakes Regional School staff such as Sonja Johnson, Lily Webber, Sarita Crandall, and Abby Thompson for this past summer’s children’s parade, England had a section designated to dark skies and also to the solar eclipse and incentivized the pre-K through five kids to come up with their own costumes of the solar system. She had prizes and judging to incentivize creativity and for the older children that get self-conscious, they could decorate a bike for example. She wanted to use that as an opportunity to draw attention to dark skies to people who come into the area for the July 3rd celebration.
She mentioned the enthusiasm both in and outside of the school for both the Dark Sky initiative as well as the April Solar Eclipse. “So it’s awesome to be able to see a little bit of excitement and people embracing it.”
She was inspired initially by the Defending the Dark documentary RLHT sponsored and offered for free at the Rangeley Friends of the Arts Lakeside Theater in October of 2022.
She recalled how the rain poured heavily that night. She was surprised what a small turnout it was and how it was mostly an older crowd. “There were no other children there at all. There was no one my age at all.”  She considered how it was a Friday night and everyone is always very busy but also how important she thought it was for future generations. “The folks that came were fantastic, but this is the type of thing that you need to carry forward. This is about heritage and preservation. It’s nice to have the older cohorts there- they can sort of raise their fists and say this needs to be preserved, of course but you need to have the younger generations acknowledging the preservation need and just the fact that it’s important and that it’s enjoyable and it’s something that we do need to maintain and we should be proud that that’s what this area provides to us and our children. So I saw that and I thought I need to get involved.”

Mrs. Thompson and family (wearing a “Look Up” and Preserve the Night Sky signs; the girls were shooting stars and the wagon with the little boy are a spaceship and NASA astronaut)

She also thought this topic would be well received by the children. “The thing is, kids love the sky, they love everything about it: planets and shooting stars, and all of it. I mean kids absolutely love that kind of thing. I don’t think it’s difficult to get them to talk about or get excited about.”
She elaborated on the worthwhile documentary. “There were so many cool things about it. They talked about nighttime pollinators and I’m a gardener. I’m a rather enthusiastic gardener in fact, but I didn’t know that moths are non-selective pollinators and they’re super important for pollination. A lot of different types of pollinators only like certain types of plants. Moths cross pollinate, and they have sort of that wide repertoire, and I thought, really? And they said you should turn your lights off, because if you don’t, the moths are just going to go toward the light. They’re not going to be in your garden and helping to pollinate your plants. And I thought, oh my God, how many gardeners out there have no idea that this is the case because a lot of people will light up their gardens because they don’t want the deer in there. It’s almost somewhat counterintuitive. At the very least, you’re losing out on a key pollinator population.
This is one example, the one other part that caught my attention was the endocrine system. And the effects that the overexposure of light in our society has on our health and on our children’s health. And it was very, very interesting to listen to that stuff. It was like a 30-minute little spiel, and it described the dark sky certification process of Greenville, ME and mentioned the Rangeley Region areas unique dark sky.”

Sarah and husband Brent post July 3rd parade.

A little background, Sarah was born in upstate New York in the Catskills and grew up as an Air Force brat, eventually got her doctorate from Brown in Rhode Island, and she and her husband Brent got married in Oquossoc back in 2008. In 2017 they purchased a property here. Three years later, once the pandemic hit, her work, specifically her background in immunology, kept her very busy. Rather than continue to go back and forth from their place in Massachusetts she decided to come up here. At the time her husband was deployed six months of the year, and her children, Oliver and Everett, now RLRS students, were schooled remotely. “I just felt so much calmer up here. I think my kids were calmer too, so we came up here to stay.”
I’m guessing the beautiful dark skies help with that.

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