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2015-12-31

Library hosts dark skies program

By John Hegemier

By John Hegemier
Director, Bandera Public Library

A long time ago in a backyard far, far away I sat outside with my grandfather on a cool Ohio summer night. He told stories about growing up on a farm. His youthful misdeeds thrilled me and my siblings. At the end of his meandering monologue he took on a wistful look and said, "There's just not as many stars as there used to be."
I was young and impressionable but I sincerely doubted that the sky was lacking stars in any way. On the contrary, I could see more stars than I could ever count. So I mostly dismissed his tale, and attributed the diminishing number of stars to his failing eyesight. Later, while attending a summer camp far out in the country, I prepared to bed down. The campfire was barely smoldering. I looked up and the true panoply of what the night sky held was revealed.
Regrettably, two-thirds of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way. This unfortunate situation is largely caused by the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light. The spillage of unwanted light into the night sky is known as light pollution. It interferes not only our ability to see the stars, but it also upsets the migratory behavior of wildlife, and disrupts the hunting ability of nocturnal predators. Fortunately, the Milky Way is still visible throughout most of the Texas Hill Country and the actions we take will help ensure it stays that way. That's why it's important that we be aware of how properly designed outdoor lighting can meet your need for safety and security and still maintain the beauty of the night sky.
The dark skies of the Texas Hill Country have more than just aesthetic value. They are part of the rural experience that attracts tourism, which in turn contributes significantly to our local economy. Thankfully there are many relatively simple steps that individuals and businesses can adopt that will minimize the negative impact that artificial light has on us and animal life.
If you have an interest in dark skies and want to learn more about what actions you can do to preserve them, please come to the Bandera Public Library on Wednesday, Jan. 6 at 6 pm. Barbara Baggett from the Hill Country Alliance will be here to discuss this important subject.