Stargazing can be an out-of-this-world experience, but here in Texas, there are a few places that are able to magnify that experience even more.
The Panhandle’s Copper Breaks State Park and Hill Country’s Enchanted Rock State Natural Area have just become the first Texas state parks to be designated International Dark Sky Parks by an organization that promotes night sky conservation and environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. The Tuscon-based, International Dark-Sky Association gave the parks its highest, “Gold-tier” night skies status. They now join Big Bend National Park and the City of Dripping Springs, which also have earned the Dark Sky Places recognition.
“Texas is rapidly becoming a national leader in the dark sky movement,” says John Barentine
For many years, 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.
“Texas is rapidly becoming a national leader in the dark sky movement,” says John Barentine, manager of IDA’s 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.”
In recent years, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has begin developing policies and light management plans to address light pollution issues in many of the 95 state parks. The department is working with the McDonald Observatory and the Texas chapter of the IDA to implement their recommendations.
“One of our most valued attributes in Texas is its natural beauty,” says 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.”
Copper Breaks State Park, 13 miles south of Quanah, has capitalized on its celestial assets by hosting Star Walks and other astronomy programs for nearly 20 years.
Enchanted Rock, 15 miles north of Fredericksburg, worked to reduce manmade glare, benefitting the star parties introduced to park visitors in 2011. Superintendent Doug Cochran says 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.”
To learn more about stargazing opportunities in Texas state parks and night sky darkness ratings, visit: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/programs/dark_skies.