Enchanted Rock achieves International ‘Dark Sky’ status

A star trail is recorded in this time-release photo by Chase Fountain for Texas Parks & Wildlife 2014.

The stars at night are, indeed, big and bright and will remain that way at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.

Enchanted Rock, located about 15 miles north of Fredericksburg, was one of two Texas state parks to be designated International Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark-Sky Association. (Copper Breaks State Park in the Panhandle was the other.)

“Texas is rapidly becoming a national leader in the dark sky movement,” said John Barentine, manager of the IDA Dark Sky Places Program. “There are some really dedicated folks in Texas’ parks and communities taking significant steps to protect the night skies and educate policymakers and the public about the importance of preserving one of the state’s most precious natural resources.”

 Big Bend National Park and the City of Dripping Springs are the only locations in Texas to have earned the Dark Sky Places recognition.

Enchanted Rock, named for its giant pink granite dome rising from the Llano Uplift 15 miles north of Fredericksburg, reduced manmade glare, benefiting star parties introduced to park visitors in 2011.

Park Superintendent Doug Cochran said 90 percent of Enchanted Rock’s lighting now complies with IDA lighting requirements, “not only saving energy, but also assuring that visitors from the city experience a night sky uninterrupted by bright lights and skyscrapers.”

For many years, Texas state parks in rural areas, such as Copper Breaks and Enchanted Rock, have conducted regular star-gazing programs and events to engage and educate the public about the importance of preserving pristine night skies that make the viewing of constellations, planets, stars, satellites and other objects possible.

In recent years, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department started recognizing the impact of urban sprawl and resulting light pollution on many of its 95 state parks and is developing policies and lighting management plans to address the issue. Texas State Parks leadership is partnering with the McDonald Observatory and the Texas chapter of the IDA to audit the night skies above the parks and implement their recommendations.

“One of our most valued attributes in Texas is its natural beauty,” said Texas State Parks Director Brent Leisure. “This beauty is not limited to the light of day, but extends into the night sky where Texans can enjoy a front-row seat to the splendor of the universe. State parks and natural areas offer some of our very best public venues to experience this heavenly show.”

Management at Enchanted Rock underwent a lengthy IDA application process to document the sites’ dark sky attributes and outline steps already taken to comply with dark-sky best practices, as well as to show wide support from TPWD leadership, local governments, park Friends Groups and community conservation and astronomical organizations.

The applications had to be favorably reviewed by the IDA’s Dark Sky Places Committee and subsequently approved by the association’s board of directors for the parks to attain the coveted Dark Sky Park designation.

Other Texas state parks, including Big Bend Ranch State Park in far West Texas, have applied or are in the process of applying for Dark Sky status.

The IDA established the Dark Sky Places Program in 2001 to recognize stewardship of the night skies. Nationally, eight communities, 19 parks and eight reserves have received IDA recognition.

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