Wimberley Valley was named DarkSky Place of the Year on Nov. 4., at the Under One Sky Global Conference, webcast internationally from Tucson Arizona. The conference is hosted by DarkSky International (formerly the International Dark Sky Association), the world-wide organization promoting dark sky awareness. It was DSI that awarded the Wimberley Valley official Dark Sky Community designation in 2018.
The Award was presented to Greg Webb, chair of the Wimberley Valley Dark Sky Committee (WVDSC), by Dajana Bjelajac of the DarkSky award committee. “This award is given in recognition of recent exceptional achievement by an International DarkSky Place. Congratulations Wimberley Valley for their successful efforts to keep the stars shining bright in the Lone Star State. Wimberley Valley is a small river valley community located between two of Texas’ largest and fastest growing cities. Through education, marketing and a robust community outreach program, they have built a community that treasures the night sky, further preserving their Little Bit of Heaven for generations to come. Congratulations.” WVDSC learned of the award shortly before the conference.
“I was really surprised,” Webb said. “I didn’t know we had been nominated. “I think they based it in part on our annual report, done by member Martha Pinto, helped by several other members. DarkSky International saw how active we had been, and how involved the community is. For example, DarkSky asks groups to list five things they do to involve the community; we had a dozen things, such as the Blue Hole Star Parties, the July 4 Parade, the October Moonlight Howl at the Moon, our booth at Boo Hole for Halloween in Blue Hole Park, and so on.” Webb considers it an achievement of the entire valley community. “Since we are the Wimberley Valley Dark Sky Committee, we have two communities, and the people and councils of Wimberley and Woodcreek have all been responsive and helpful. Both councils have passed ordinances in support of dark sky lighting.” Webb announced receipt of the award to Wimberley City Council on Nov. 2, and plans to make a formal announcement to Woodcreek Council soon.
“This is significant,” said Rebecca Minnick, the presiding Mayor Pro Tem at the Wimberley meeting. “It’s world-wide for crying out loud. This is a huge thing. “Greg conveyed that we are not the darkest place, but we can be a model of how it is done in communities like ours,” Minnick said. “We’re sitting in between (the bright skies over) Austin and San Antonio, yet we are showing there are still things we can do, things that can be an inspiration to suburbs around other large cities.” Webb added that at the most recent Star Party at Blue Hole, just 28 miles from brilliant downtown Austin, participants were still able to see the Milky Way clearly. There are currently 220+ designated Dark Sky places worldwide, including Dark Sky Parks, Reserves, Sanctuaries, Communities and Urban Dark Sky Spaces. Wimberley Valley was the third Dark Sky Community in Texas, following Dripping Sprints and Horseshoe Bay. The state now has seven Dark Sky communities, with others working on accreditation, and more than 20 Dark Sky Places, such as Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. A full list is at darkskytexas.org
“It is not an easy designation to get, or to keep, and we could not maintain it without the enthusiastic support of our people, and our organizations,” Webb said. “Wimberley Valley Radio welcomes (WVDSC Outreach Coordinator) Jamie Kinscherff on anytime we ask, and we worked with Operations Manager Brach Thomas to create an incredible public service announcement that they have aired hundreds of times. The Wimberley View has published several articles each year about dark skies and activities. Wimberley Parks Department head Richard Shaver is a member of our committee, and the park co-hosts with us the Star Parties and other events. Many local businesses have improved their lighting to get the Night Sky Friendly Business designation.”
Wimberley’s Director of Tourism, Leanne Kirby, views the award as an achievement for the community. “Wimberley’s journey to becoming the International DarkSky Place of the Year is a testament to this remarkable blend of community dedication and natural beauty that we are fortunate to call home. It’s an invitation to stargazers from all around the world to witness the magic of our pristine nightscapes.” For Kinscherff, who leads the Blue Hole star parties and spends many hours talking dark skies on the radio and to local groups, the award is a very gratifying. “It confirms that our efforts are helping this valley not lose the night sky, even as it continues to grow. The people of the Wimberley Valley should have a sense of pride, because they have achieved this. The agreed to the idea that dark skies are important to our community.”
By: Louis Parks