For the week of June 16, 1999  thru June 23, 1999  

Confessions of `Dr. Dark

On saving stargazing from extinction

Express Staff Writer

Behind every ambitious idea there’s an ambitious mind, and Ketchum’s dark sky preservation ordinance is no exception.

The mind belongs to Elkhorn resident Dr. Steven Pauley--known by many Wood River Valley locals as Dr. Dark or Captain Kilowatt.

In 1979, he set out in his 42-foot sailboat from Newport, Calif., bound for Hawaii. He didn’t realize it at the time, but that trip with his wife and two sons was the beginning of a night sky preservation quest that has consumed much of his life for the past three years.

Without the help of modern-day technological navigation aids, Pauley learned to navigate by the stars on that trip. It was the first of several ocean voyages on which as celestial navigator he was responsible for his crews’ safety.

"Steering under the stars, there’s nothing like it," he said. "At sea, you see everything as it’s been seen by everyone for all time. It’s the one thing man hasn’t screwed up."

Now, he wants valley residents to be able to share the night sky he learned to love from the deck of his boat.

For the past three years, Pauley has played the leading role in instigating night sky preservation efforts in the Wood River Valley. Most recently, he has worked hand-in-hand with Ketchum’s city staff to draft an ordinance that, if passed, will limit the amount of light the city can emit into the sky.

But for Pauley, whose hobby is astronomy, efforts to preserve star-spangled skies go beyond personal interest.

"When I focus on what me and my generation have left (of the earth), I have a fairly pessimistic outlook on the future," he said. "My night sky preservation efforts are just a small way of making a difference."

Urban sprawl and development are quickly replacing the natural world, he said, and intelligent planning can help to preserve what’s left for future generations.

"I would equate the extinction of the night sky with the extinction of salmon runs," he said. "We have to protect that heritage of where we come from."

Pauley said that people’s almost universal love for the stars and nature, in a sense, connects them with night’s heavenly bodies.

"Being such a large part of it, it’s hard to turn our backs on it," he said.

Although local residents are blessed with the skies they do have, he said, bad lighting has slowly crept into the valley through the years. He compared bad lighting to kudzu, the non-native vine that has all but taken over large parts of the southern states since being brought to the United States from Japan.

"They both start very slowly and then take over," he said.

Around the end of 1996, Pauley visited the Ketchum and Blaine County planning and zoning commissions to make his case. He also wrote letters to Bellevue, Hailey and the city of Sun Valley.

When Ketchum City Councilwoman Chris Potters was elected to the Ketchum City Council, he got a bite. Potters was interested and got the ball rolling in the north valley, he said.

Ultimately, Pauley would like to see statewide regulations formed. He said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum has shown a preliminary interest in working on regulations on that level.

For now, he’ll have to settle for helping and prodding at city and county levels. In fact, he’ll soon be traveling to Ada County where he will give a presentation to its planning and zoning commission on what night sky preservation entails.

When he’s not crusading, he’ll be admiring Saturn’s rings, the Milky Way and Mars’ polar ice caps from his back yard.

"Those winter nights when there’s clarity beyond belief and the neighbors turn everything off, there’s nothing like it," he said.


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