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Wimberley Valley cities go dark

The Wimberley Valley is the newest member of the exclusive club of only three Texas Dark Skies Communities.

The area, which encompasses the cities of Woodcreek and Wimberley, was officially designated  the third International Dark Sky Community in Texas on June 11 by the The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

The designation was two years in the making, and efforts began in the summer of 2016 when the Wimberley Valley Dark Sky Committee was formed. Committee Chair Shannon du Plessis worked with the two cities and the community to meet IDA standards for designation.

“Light pollution is one of the easiest forms of pollution to correct because if you turn the lights off or shield the lights you can really get instant gratification there, so it’s pretty easy for people to support,” du Plessis said.

The committee had to make sure both the city of Wimberley and Woodcreek had lighting ordinances compliant to IDA requirements, the cities made proclamations supporting the effort, updated municipal buildings to have compliant lighting, and hosted several educational presentations in the community.

The committee also has to measure the darkness of the night sky with a dark-sky meter and send IDA a yearly report in order to stay a dark-sky community.

Du Plessis says having darker skies in the community will benefit the wildlife in the area and also tourism for the Wimberley Valley. She calls it “astro-tourism.”

“The main thing it’s going to do for us is tourism. Eighty percent of people in the world will never see the Milky Way because it just doesn’t get dark enough where they live,” du Plessis said. “So we want to let people know that in the Wimberley Valley, if you want to see the Milky Way and the planets and the stars and enjoy a truly dark night sky, that’s what we can offer.”

The Wimberley Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Moreman said that astro-tourism is a growing interest for people who want bring their telescopes to destinations where they can see stars in the night sky.

Moreman expects tourism over the summer to increase, especially in visitors who want to spend the night to see the dark skies.

“I think this is a designation that brings attention to Wimberley from all over the world,” Moreman said.

Moving forward the Wimberley Valley Dark Sky Committee plans to continue hosting educational presentations and star gazing parties.

“We have the designation, but our work doesn’t stop. We need to keep the designation,” du Plessis said.

Buda’s sustainability commission has also been looking into making the city a dark-sky community. Fredericksburg has recently been looking into the designation as well.

Currently the cities of Horseshoe Bay and Dripping Springs are the only other cities in Texas that are designated Dark Skies Communities.

“We’re excited to be in third place, instead of fourth or fifth place. But we’re also very excited that Buda and Fredericksburg are doing this. There’s a whole lot of dark-sky related activities going on in the Texas Hill Country, and that’s just really exciting,” du Plessis said.

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