South Texas natural area earns global recognition as premiere stargazing site

By Justin Horne - Weather Authority Meteorologist/Reporter

A portion of Val Verde County has entered elite company worldwide when it comes to stargazing.

The Devils River State Natural area was recently designated a Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark Sky Association, making it one of only six in the world.

The IDA, as it is known, has a mission of protecting the night sky from light pollution.

Its members believe the elimination of light pollution benefits human health and preserves wildlife habitat.
While Texas has a few state parks and cities with Dark Sky certifications, it is no surprise that the Devils River State Natural Area is the state's first Dark Sky Sanctuary. The sanctuary designation promotes conservation of the world’s more remote locations and few places in Texas are more remote that the Devils River.

“Visitors to the Devils River State Natural Area get a taste, a taste of wild, scenic, rugged, remote Texas,” said Beau Hester, superintendent of the Del Norte Unit of the Devils River State Natural Area.

It is a place where the sights and sounds of nature come at visitors from every direction. The water in the Devils River is among the cleanest in North America because it is relatively free of pollution and contaminants.

And when the sun goes down, the only lights you will see come from the moon and stars. 
"The dark skies are just sort of the icing on the cake,” said Hester. "Not only do we have dark skies, but we don't have lights burning at nighttime."

Hester is in charge of making sure the Devils River State Natural Area stays compliant, which includes measuring darkness, or lack of light pollution.  Using a small device, Hester takes measurements that are submitted to the IDA.

The result is unparalleled views that will likely draw more stargazers to this hidden Texas gem. 

“The peace, the solitude that you get out at the Devil’s River State Natural Area is cleansing to the soul” said Hester.

Kenric D. Kattner, president of the International Dark-Sky Association, released this statement about the Devil’s River’s designation:

On January 31, 2019, Devils River State Natural Area was designated as the First International Dark Sky Sanctuary in Texas and is the sixth International Dark-Sky Sanctuary ever designated in the world, and the third in the U.S. Sanctuaries are typically found in very remote locations with few nearby threats to the quality of the dark night skies. The IDA designation will help preserve the night skies and natural landscape of Devils River SNA.

This is the only Sanctuary managed by a state parks system. And it is the fifth property managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to receive IDA certification.  Among state park systems, Texas now has the most IDA accredited properties (5). The next nearest is Utah (4). It’s a very dark site, influenced only by the light from Del Rio and a handful of smaller towns. It’s at the easternmost edge of a “belt” of natural nighttime darkness that extends west beyond the Big Bend.

On behalf of the IDA, we are very excited that Devils River SNA has become an IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary and we’re impressed with the efforts the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has undertaken to preserve the natural nighttime skies above Texas.

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