Cenizo Journal Winter 2021 | Page 8

Dark Sky Reserves consist of a “ core ” area meeting minimum criteria for sky quality and natural darkness , and a peripheral region which supports preservation in the core . The core of the proposed Big Bend DSR is “ Texas Big :” At 1,253,351 acres it includes Big Bend National Park , Big Bend Ranch State Park , the Chinati Mountains State Natural Area , Nature Conservancy Davis Mountains Preserve , and the McDonald Observatory . These publicly and privately managed lands have already secured IDA certification by retrofitting light fixtures with night sky friendly technology and implementing night sky friendly practices . The peripheral region will add an additional 8,484,477 acres to the Big Bend DSR . IDA certified places also advance night sky conservation through outreach and interpretive activities , showing how night sky friendly lighting improves illumination , visibility , safety and the enjoyment of nighttime phenomena and nature experiences .
Places like the Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve demonstrate how improved night sky quality can be achieved at scale . The proposed DSR will protect and improve night sky quality for a land area exceeding the size of Delaware with “ win-win ” results , reducing exposure to artificial light pollution while yielding economic , ecological , human health and safety benefits .
“ To achieve the creation of the Big Bend Dark Sky Reserve will involve a tremendous amount of cooperation across county , state and national boundaries ,” says University of Texas Dark Skies Initiative Director Bill Wren . Known affectionately as “ The Godfather of Darkness ” for his decades of work to promote and improve night-sky friendly lighting practices across the Big Bend , his achievements in this arena are not insignificant . University of Texas , Texas A & M , and collaborating international researchers rely upon quality night skies at McDonald Observatory for astronomical observing , scientific discoveries , and visitor programs . In support of this , Wren and others worked with the Texas General Land Office


Cenizo Winter 2021
and petroleum industry to transform how oilfield operations and transportation can safely and effectively illuminate these 24-7 activities while preserving nighttime sky quality . One wonders : If the oilfield can do it , can the rest of us ?
Wren emphasizes that night-sky friendly lighting practices improve illumination and security after dark . “ In fact , we can all improve nighttime visibility and safety by reducing glare , directing light to where it is wanted . It ’ s win-win .”
McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis , Texas hosts nearly 100,000 visitors annually for Astronomy and Solar viewing programs . A growing roster of Big Bend lodging , food service and other hospitality entities cater to amateur and professional astronomers , astrophotographers , and members of the public in search of high-quality night sky experiences . Their lodging stays , restaurant , grocery , fuel , and tourism generate substantial revenue . For example , if each of those travelers spent only $ 50 per visit , it would contribute $ 5,000,000 to the local economy . Include 8.25 % sales tax paid on incidental purchases , or a 15 % lodging tax to whatever base revenue is generated , to envision how the economic benefits of highquality night skies quickly add up .
One example of how high-quality night skies are a vital part of the Big Bend ’ s tourist economy and our unique quality of life is Dr . Grady Blount , co-owner of the Big Bend Observatory near Terlingua , Texas . Ninety percent or more of his clientele travel to experience high quality night skies and astronomy-related phenomena , such as the recent comet Neowise , or a first-hand view of the billions of stars in the Milky Way . Another example are astrophotographers Page Graham and his wife of 40 years , Carol , who wanted to find another hobby they could enjoy together , and who fell in love … with stars and nebulas . Now they travel to the Big Bend regularly to sit under the stars , take pictures , talk , relax and enjoy each other ’ s company .
Lee McMullen specifically relocated to the Big Bend to develop as a photographer . His night sky images take hours of traveling across the roughest roads , often working the darkest reaches of the country to produce . But some nighttime phenomena are a disappointment . Recently , Lee is finding what he terms “ double sunsets ” appearing in his night sky photos . He says they appear not because of natural light events , but from increased lighting that emanates from towns and cities miles away from where he might be working . Light particles travel farther and faster than other phenomena , such as noise , and can have an immense , unintended reach