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PARK SPOTLIGHT

Dark as the Devils

Devils River State Natural Area is named an International Dark Sky Sanctuary

An estimated 80 percent of Americans have never seen the Milky Way. Many Texans who live in the glow of brightly illuminated urban areas can see few stars in the night sky, so the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is dedicated to protecting the ink-black skies above Texans’ favorite getaways.

As a result, the Devils River State Natural Area has been named an International Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), the first such designation in Texas. (Some TPWD sites are IDA Dark Sky Parks, see sidebar.) As only the sixth international site to receive the title, the park is one of the darkest and most ecologically fragile sites in the world.

“We cannot be more thrilled,” says Rodney Franklin, Texas state parks director. “It’s a great testament to our staff’s dedication and commitment to keeping the wild places of Texas truly wild.”

Sanctuaries are typically found in very remote locations with few nearby threats to the quality of their dark night skies. Devils River State Natural Area, far from cities and home to one of the most pristine rivers in the state, is a biologically diverse habitat for plants, fish and native wildlife, including a rare salamander and several protected fish species.

With a rating of a 2 on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, Devils River’s sky is dark enough to see the Milky Way and other astronomical clusters. The scale ranges from Class 1, the darkest skies available on Earth, through Class 9, inner-city skies, and measures how well astronomical objects can be seen in the night sky.

The IDA established the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky. Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach.

STATEWIDE STAR SHOWS

The International Dark Sky Places program offers six types of designations to places preserving celestial views: Dark Sky communities, parks, reserves, sanctuaries and more. While Devils River is TPWD’s first “sanctuary” in the program, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Copper Breaks State Park, South Llano River State Park and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area have all been named Dark Sky Parks. You can read about some of these parks in our January 2015 feature.

In addition to IDA, TPWD partners with the McDonald Observatory and local astronomy groups to promote stargazing in state parks with star parties, constellation tours and light pollution education programs.

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