BLANCO, Texas, U.S. – The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) officially approved the City of Blanco as an International Dark Sky Community (IDSC). Culminating a grassroots effort that began in 2007, the certification validated the work of the City of Blanco, the Blanco Chamber of Commerce, and the Blanco County Friends of the Night Sky in protecting the night sky above and around the city from the ravages of light pollution.
“The City of Blanco has always been enamored with the night sky,” stated Ashley Wilson, Director of Conservation with IDA. “With their tireless work, paired with the foundation of a tight-knit community and ecstatic partners, their cumulative actions have led to successfully celebrating and protecting the night sky.”
The IDA works to protect the night skies for present and future generations by requiring applicants to follow a rigorous application process to demonstrate robust community support for dark sky protection and document designation-specific program requirements. Blanco’s 295-page application represented a community-wide effort and provided detailed documentation of work done by city staff and community volunteers over many years to reach this goal.
The City of Blanco, with a population of approximately 2,100, prides itself as being the “Heart and Hub of the Texas Hill Country.” Founded by Texas Rangers in 1853 and developed and sustained by waves of German immigrants and numerous others since, the City and its citizens are proud of its rough and tumble ranching heritage and the small-town ambiance that persists into the present day. Surrounded by beautiful, oak-covered hills that are ablaze with wildflowers in the spring, blessed with the wonderfully clear, spring-fed Blanco River that flows right through the City, and strategically located within an easy drive of both Austin and San Antonio, Blanco has a lot to be proud of, its beautiful night skies being one of them.
Starting in 2007, volunteers began working with city staff and various organizations that shared the vision of a pristine night sky. A public education campaign was initiated. Using Sky Quality Meters (SQMs), an active program was established to measure night sky quality so progress in countering light pollution could be ascertained.
In 2018, the Blanco County Friends of the Night Sky (BCFNS) was established to promote night sky preservation and light pollution abatement. That same year, a comprehensive Outdoor Lighting Ordinance was drafted and adopted by the Blanco City Council and the IDSC application process was begun in earnest.
Night sky preservation presentations were made to local schools and community organizations. Night sky information booths were set up at city Market Days, at Blanco’s Twin Sisters heritage dance hall, and at Chamber of Commerce events. Contests were held to include night sky essay contests, art contests, and a songwriting contest that culminated in a 13-song CD of original music extolling the virtues of the night sky.
A Wizard of the Night Sky costumed character was created to animate the message to various groups. A Night Sky Friendly Business Recognition program was initiated that recognizes local businesses for their good outdoor lighting. A Light Bulb Exchange program was also started to encourage residents and businesses to use dark-sky friendly outdoor fixtures.
Outdoor lighting evaluations were conducted for several businesses and organizations to include Blanco State Park. Using GPS receivers and light measurement tools, volunteer groups inventoried every streetlight in the City of Blanco and, finding none that met the City’s Outdoor Lighting Ordinance, coordination was initiated with the Pedernales Electric Co-op, the City’s electricity provider, which resulted in a commitment to replace all the City’s streetlights with IDA-approved fixtures at no cost to the City of Blanco.
In conjunction with the Hill Country Alliance and the Blanco County Commissioners Court, a Night Sky Friendly Neighborhood program was established to encourage developers to include common sense outdoor lighting requirements in their deed restrictions. The Texas Legislature was successfully lobbied to allow for limited use of Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds to support night sky preservation efforts in Blanco and Hays counties, funds that were subsequently used to retrofit outdoor lighting fixtures at two local motels.
“The process was a long one for us, but the end goal was worth it,” stated Blanco Mayor Rachel Lumpee. “The City of Blanco sits at the ‘edge of darkness,’ with light polluted large cities to our east and south. We view our still beautiful night sky as a treasured natural resource that deserves protection from light pollution. We want to protect the darkness we have and actually reclaim the even more beautiful night skies enjoyed by our predecessors here in the Texas Hill Country.”
An IDA International Dark Sky Community (IDSC) is a town, city, municipality, or other legally organized community that has shown exceptional dedication to the preservation of the night sky through the implementation and enforcement of a quality outdoor lighting ordinance, dark sky education and citizen support of dark skies. Dark Sky Communities excel in their efforts to promote responsible lighting and dark sky stewardship, and they set good examples for surrounding communities. In its quest to preserve the night sky, Blanco joins the four neighboring IDSC-designated communities in the Texas Hill Country: Fredericksburg, Dripping Springs, Horseshoe Bay, and the Wimberley Valley. Additionally, Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park (Ranch Unit), Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and Milton Reimers Ranch, all a short drive from Blanco, have been designated as IDA International Dark Sky Parks.
The City of Blanco was supported through the certification process by many partners including the Texas Chapter of the International Dark Sky Association and the Hill Country Alliance (HCA), a non-profit created to build awareness and community support for the natural resources and heritage of the Central Texas Hill Country.
“The Hill Country Alliance is thrilled about this certification, and we send enthusiastic congratulations to the entire Blanco community on this achievement,” said HCA Night Sky Program Manager Dawn Davies. “Our region cares deeply about night sky preservation, and as a designated International Dark-Sky Community, the City of Blanco is an inspiration to us all. We look forward to continuing to support their night sky work and outreach.”
Libbey Aly, Executive Director of the Blanco Chamber of Commerce, stated, “Being designated an official International Dark Sky Community will be a real boon to our efforts to promote night sky tourism in and around Blanco. Tourists come here to see our historical Town Square, enjoy our beautiful hills, and fish and play in our spring-fed river. Now they will be more likely to remain overnight to enjoy our wonderful night sky as well. It’s a win-win for us all.”
“This was a community-wide team effort from beginning to end,” said Wayne Gosnell, President of the Blanco County Friends of the Night Sky. “It is gratifying and quite appropriate that this designation should come to us during the International Dark Sky Week. Well done, everyone!
About the International Dark-Sky Places Program: The International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 as a non-regulatory and voluntary program to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through effective lighting policies, environmentally responsible outdoor lighting, and public education. When used indiscriminately, artificial light can disrupt ecosystems, impact human health, waste money and energy, contribute to climate change, and block our view and connection to the universe. Blanco, Texas now joins more than 195 Places that have demonstrated robust community support for dark sky advocacy and strive to protect the night from light pollution. Learn more by visiting www.darksky.org/conservation/idsp.
About the International Dark-Sky Association: The mission of the IDA is to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. Information about IDA and the process of becoming a designated IDSC can be found at www.darksky.org. Information about night sky preservation specifically in Blanco County, Texas can be found on the website of the Blanco County Friends of the Night Sky, www.blancocountynightsky.org.
Director of Conservation, International Dark-Sky Association
Mr. Wayne Gosnell
1374 River Run
Blanco, Texas 78606