Want dark? Go to Big Bend Ranch, which just earned dark sky status

Campers enjoy the sites on Guale Mesa at Big Bend Ranch State Park. Pam LeBlanc/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

When the sun sets on a moonless night at rugged and remote Big Bend Ranch State Park, the night wraps around you like a black velvet cloak.

This week, the 315,000-acre park announced its designation as an International Dark Sky Park.

Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, with a combined area larger than the state of Rhode Island, now form one of the largest contiguous areas under dark-skies protection in the United States.

That’s big – and blow-out-a-candle-in-a-cave dark.

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“Big Bend Ranch State Park is known for its remote location and the feeling of being in the wilderness. Preserving the dark sky is key to that experience and something all visitors treasure,” Mark Lockwood, Region 1 Director with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said in a press release.

The group camps at Pila Montoya III campsite during a bike trip through Big Bend Ranch State Park. Chris LeBlanc for American-Statesman

 

Artificial lights can turn night into day for animals, plants and insects, with deadly affects. Light can cause birds that hunt to fly into buildings, act as a “fatal attraction” for insects, disrupt mating behavior of frogs and toads and confuse birds’ migration patterns. Plus, don’t you just sleep better when the skies are their blackest?

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Big Bend Ranch State Park will host an event to celebrate its new designation, but a date has not been set. It also will launch a Dark Sky Steward program, so the public can help monitor the park’s night skies over time. Volunteers will observe and photograph the sky from different parts of the park.

It’s the fourth park in the Texas State Parks system to receive the coveted status from the International Dark-Sky Association. The others are Copper Breaks State Park, South Llano River State Park and Enchanted Rock State Park.

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Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and community outreach. To earn the certification, Big Bend Ranch State Park inventoried all its outdoor lighting and created a plan for current and future lighting installations. It also started a program to educate park visitors and area residents about the importance of dark night skies and quality outdoor lighting.

Currently, 16 communities, 57 parks, 11 reserves, three sanctuaries and four Dark Sky Friendly Developments of Distinction are recognized with International Dark Sky Places designations. The Big Bend area, part of the remote and rugged Trans-Pecos region of far West Texas, holds some of the darkest night skies remaining in the lower 48 states, according to the International Dark-Sky Association. Big Bend National Park received its dark-sky status in 2012.

For more information about the International Dark-Sky Association, go here.

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