Reserve a big part of local dark sky efforts

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Three-town border may keep this part of the Hill Country nighttime pristine

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The stars at night are big and bright … for now.

But encroaching development and lights are making our views of the nightly heavens less heavenly.

But several communities and individuals are working to see that this part of the Hill Country can still focus upward for inspiration and awe at night and see the Milky Way in all its glory. A Dark Sky Reserve area is being planned with Enchanted Rock State Natural Area serving as its center.

The cities of Fredericksburg, Llano and Mason would be the outer borders of this reserve, and everything within would be dark-sky friendly. These three towns may enact volunteer and development-based policies to help keep that center core as dark as possible. Those include light management plans, a lighting inventory, measurement procedures, and, most of all, a commitment to dark skies and helping the public understand.

Attorney Ken Kattner has taken a keen interest in this, even building his own observatory near the Gillespie-Llano county line. He has put together information about the reserve, how it would work and what its benefits would be. Kattner also has established dark sky monitoring stations around the county and at the state park. A foundation and board of directors has been formed to guide these efforts.

It’s a good thing, too. As the Texas population increases, particularly around the metro areas, its light leaks seep into our beautiful Hill Country. A USA Today article stated that people living east of the Mississippi River may never see the Milky Way in all its glory. Why? Artificial light. “It’s a sense of connection with nature that’s been severed,” said John Barentine of the International Dark Sky Association.

These efforts are not just about seeing pretty stars either, though that is a laudable goal. Eco-tourism will continue to play a growing role in our economy. Enchanted Rock gets tons of visitors each year who camp out or attend star parties. It’s closer to the population centers than the vast West Texas regions where dark sky views are prevalent.

We fully support these efforts to establish a preserve. For most of us, the efforts to keep our skies dark require minimal effort, such as making sure our outdoor fixtures don’t send light upward (which wastes energy anyway). And a look at a satellite map shows Gillespie County is slowly transitioning from a “rural sky” to a “suburban transition” sky. That means more light and less stars.

Thanks to Kattner and his Putnam Mountain Observatory, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Friends of Enchanted Rock, Hill Country Astronomers and the International Dark Sky Association for supporting these efforts.

Let’s keep the awe and inspiration of our starry skies intact. – K.E.C.