A Texas Master Naturalist Chapter’s Efforts to Protect Dark Skies

Blog content and photos provided by Ellen Weinacht and John Kennedy

Tierra Grande Master Naturalists (TGMN) and defenders of the night sky gathered on January 18 and 19 for a fun weekend of practical education and advanced training as part of the Dark Skies Initiative led by Bill Wren of the McDonald Observatory.

Dark Skies
Photo by John Kennedy

The TGMN dark sky initiative consists of several priority projects for the chapter: planning and implementation of the upcoming Texas Dark Skies Festival at the McDonald Observatory on April 25 as well as rendering extensive technical assistance and project management services in partnership with the Davis Mountains State Park and McDonald Observatory in the development of an International Dark Sky Association designation. Additionally, trainees learned how to identify noncompliant light-polluting fixtures and identified strategies for local engagement toward improved community outcomes.

McDonald Observatory telescope
Photo by John Kennedy

Following several hours of hands-on classroom training in physics, ecology, and policy and a delicious meal at the Astronomer’s Lodge, about two dozen participants were treated to our very own star party under a dazzlingly dark sky with Mr. Wren at the helm of the telescope and laser pointer. Bill is a long time advocate and champion of preserving not only the efficacy of the world-class research done by the University of Texas at the observatory but is known more and more as a leader in working with all types of stakeholders, including industry, to maintain and restore the incredibly rare natural resource we have here in our corner of the continent.

View of telescope at the Observatory
Photo by John Kennedy

Some trainees spent the night at the astronomer’s lodge, perched atop Mount Locke at about 6800 feet recounting past TGMN adventures and follies. They were treated to a beautiful sunrise on a cold January morning. A few more hours were spent in the classroom on Sunday going over regional policy considerations as well as practical demonstrations and plans to further public education and outreach about dark skies.

Sunrise at the Observatory
Photo by John Kennedy

A short PBS video providing a glimpse of the subject matter covered.

The Tierra Grande Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists would like to thank Bill Wren as well as Janice Moss-Wren, Katie Kizziar, and the University of Texas for their generous support of our continuing education. We look forward to working together to conserve and enhance this precious resource.

TG at the Observatory

A note from Texan by Nature:

Through a campaign of education and awareness, the McDonald Observatory’s Dark Skies Initiative seeks to protect the beautiful, milky-way filled night skies of West Texas for ongoing astronomical research and education. In recent years, the increase of oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin and all the development that comes along with that, has resulted in an increase of light pollution that threatens the dark skies. The Dark Skies Initiative staff have been working with oil and gas companies, businesses, and homeowners in local communities to make all lighting dark skies friendly. TG’s educational visit to the Observatory to learn more about the Dark Skies Initiative is a great example of what citizen science groups can do to get involved within their own communities.

To learn more about the work Texan by Nature does with McDonald Observatory’s visit the Dark Skies Initiative Conservation Wrangler page.