Marathon Chamber of Commerce met on March 24 for its first quarterly meeting of the year on the patio of Brick Vault Barbecue and Brewery. Discussion centered around a Dark Skies Initiative presented by McDonald Observatory Staffer Bill Wren.
The initiative would create the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve, encompassing all of Brewster, Jeff Davis, and Presidio counties, a portion of southwest Reeves County, and parts of protected areas in Mexico that border Big Bend National and Big Bend Ranch State parks.
This new designation for the region would showcase growing public and private commitments to protect the integrity of clear night skies in those areas.
Wren advocates on behalf of the Observatory, which requires skies free of light pollution to meet their lofty goals of advancing humanity's understanding of the universe through research in astronomy.
Wren pointed out the same lighting changes that benefit the Observatory also help people in the community.
Night friendly lights have shields, and are pointed down and directly at the areas that need to be lit. They’re less intense, with warmer color tones, and utilize timing mechanisms whenever possible so lights are only used as needed. These tactics lessen glare, keeping the sky above dark for the Observatory.
Glare gives the impression that a business or residence is well lit at night, but it actually makes things more difficult to see by washing everything out with bright, indiscriminate light. Night friendly lighting is a win-win concept that’s even found support in the oil and gas fields of Reeves County.
Starry night skies are a big draw for tourism as well. Marathon boasts its own Sky Park on the grounds of Marathon Motel and RV Park. The Sky Park hosts star parties on most nights, and a very active astrophotography station.
Most people in the region are supportive and eager to help dark sky efforts. For those neighbors or businesses that aren’t yet on board, Wren suggested inviting them over to look through a telescope to see Saturn’s rings.
“Show others how you’ve integrated night friendly lighting into your own residence or business successfully, and celebrate such examples in the community,” he urged. “Make friends, first.”
The Chamber is putting together a night sky committee to continue to address the issue, and Chamber President Linda Beranek was drafting letters of support for Black Gap and Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Areas to become internationally designated dark sky areas.
Chamber members voted in a new slate of officers, including Beranek as president, Carol Peterson as vice president, Kim Cline as treasurer, and Ingrid Murphy as the combined correspondence and chamber Secretary.
Location and snacks were provided by the Gage Hotel, and a generous donation from Trans Pecos Banks provided drinks. The next meeting, to be announced, will discuss bringing back much-anticipated Chamber events to the community.