Preserving the Dark


Austin-based photographer Rob Greebon captured the Milky Way in this time-lapse photograph from his vantage point on Enchanted Rock. © Rob Greebon, www.ImagesFromTexas.com.

Enchanted Rock named 'Dark Sky Park' for efforts

 

By Ken Esten Cooke

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. Copper Breaks State Park in the Panhandle was the other.

Named for its giant pink granite dome rising from the Llano Uplift, Enchanted Rock park staffers 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 International Dark-Sky Alliance (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.”

“Our staff, the Friends of Enchanted Rock group and volunteers are honored to represent Texas Parks and Wildlife as one of the first Dark Sky Parks in the state,” Cochran said. “Our central location and proximity to over four million people makes Enchanted Rock one of the premier destinations for stargazing. We’re committed to providing educational programs throughout the year at our ‘Rock Star’ parties, moonlight hikes and other stargazing opportunities.”

For many years, Texas state parks in rural areas, such as Copper Breaks and Enchanted Rock, have conducted star-gazing events to engage and educate the public about 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.

Ken Kattner, who owns Putnam Mountain Observatory, located to the Hill Country for its dark skies.

This is a significant achievement for the park and helps promote public awareness,” Kattner said. “In recent years, there has been growing light encroachment from Fredericksburg and Llano that is endangering the park’s dark skies. Part of its effort was installing a monitoring station to keep track of how dark the skies are over time.

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