Junaita Ikuta

Junaita Ikuta

Protecting the beauty of a dark night sky

In 2020, citizen volunteers on the Marine GreenStep Cities committee were looking for their next opportunity to help their community along a path toward sustainability and quality of life goals. 

They reviewed the list of 280+ possible actions that municipalities could undertake as part of the GreenStep program and brought 24 potential projects to their town council. 

Several projects got a thumbs up from council members, including:

• City building energy-efficiency, 

• Clean and safe water and septic education,

• Enhancing economic development with the introduction of an EV charger, and

• Promoting a dark night sky to protect the health and life of plants, animals and people. 

“I was motivated to join the Dark Night Sky team because I think it’s a component of our environment that is often overlooked,” said Juanita Ikuta, of Jackson Meadow in Marine.

“I wanted to learn more about it myself so I could bring that awareness to my children. Beyond that, it’s an area of interest and a conversation starter when I’m out socializing. I can create awareness informally in my social circle.”

“I wanted to meet other like-minded people in my community,” said Liz Kelly, who also joined the Dark Sky Team. 

“We wanted to learn about GreenStep, but we also wanted to get involved in the town,” said Patte Kraske. “There is a lot of activity here and we had just moved here when we retired. It’s important to be part of your community.”

“We didn’t know much about the community,” shared Patte’s husband, Mark. “We didn’t know people before we moved here. We thought we’d like to meet more people with similar interests.”

The team began by educating themselves about the growing global problem of light pollution, which has exploded in recent years with the introduction of LED technology. They connected with the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) and learned to use the Loss of the Night Sky phone app. 

Ikuta enjoyed the opportunity to be a citizen-scientist, gathering data that will be pooled with others around the globe. “The benefit of doing what I can in my own environment reverberates. Little steps you take do have an impact that can be far-reaching.”

Team members learned about dark-sky-compliant light fixtures for different outdoor lighting purposes, and the impact on wildlife of different types of light. 

They toured their community at night, looking for examples of good night-time lighting that they could recommend to others as an example. They identified areas where lighting didn’t meet dark night sky criteria and/or violated city codes. Members of the group wrote articles for the city newsletter and the local paper. 

The Community Turns Out for Stargazing

And in September 2021, they hosted a hugely successful stargazing event with “amateur” astronomer Mike Lynch. More than 70 people attended, staying long into the night to queue up to powerful telescopes to view the rings of Saturn, the surface of the moon, and the Milky Way. 

“One of my neighbors reached out to me after that event and asked, ‘What kind of lighting should I use?’” Ikuta said. “I was able to help them with a resource from the IDA. What I’ve learned, I can now share with my neighbors.”

Kelly, too, said she learned a lot. “And I changed some of my lighting practices because of what I learned. Plus, I’ve shared what I learned with my family and friends.”

For Mark and Patte, volunteering with the GreenStep Cities Dark Sky team hit the trifecta: helping the environment, service to others, and service to self. 

“Not that I wanted to be a leader,” Mark said, “but I ended up stepping into a leadership role and chairing the team. Being involved at this level, working on activities, seeing progress, having goals – this was the stuff I missed from my work. It filled a void in my transition to retirement.”

Patte appreciated learning more about how her community works. “Seeing how the government runs here, the mayor, the city council members, the ins and outs of that, it was very interested. We started listening to council meetings. And we got to know more people through that.”

Mark agreed: “Participating on a citizen committee, you really do start to understand the workings of the city council. You are just more observant about things that are happening and how it all works.”

Kelly said she accomplished her goal of meeting like-minded, intelligent, interesting people. Although Ikuta had lived in Marine for 10 years, and Kelly for 30, their paths had never crossed. Now they have a common bond in their love for a dark night sky. 

“It’s a great way to add more meaning to your life,” Kelly added. 

 

GreenStep Cities is a joint venture of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the League of Minnesota Cities, the Department of Commerce, and several nonprofits. It is a voluntary challenge, assistance and recognition program for municipalities. In some communities it is staffed by municipal employees, in others by citizens, or a mix of the two. Marine on St. Croix is a Step 3 city.

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