Black Gap WMA Becomes Second Dark Sky Sanctuary

black gap
Photo via darksky.org

The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife announced on August 19 that Black Gap Wildlife Management Area has been designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Black Gap is located in southwest Texas along the Rio Grande River and borders Big Bend, National Park.  

“This designation will help preserve the night skies in the Big Bend Region of Texas and will serve as an economic benefit to the area overall,” said Travis Smith, a TPWD Natural Resource Specialist at Black Gap WMA. “It will aid in the future goal of establishing a Dark Sky Reserve in the local area.” 

In becoming an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, the 108,000 acres of Black Gap WMA receives protections that otherwise aren’t possible. It is now the second sanctuary in the state. Devils River State Natural Area- De Norte Unit became the first Dark Sky Sanctuary in Texas in 2019. 

The effort to designate the WMA as a dark sky sanctuary was a collaborative effort between several divisions of the State Parks and WIldlife department, the McDonald Observatory, and local advocacy groups. The effort was spearheaded by Amber Harrison. Harrison is an Interpretive Ranger at nearby Big Bend Regional State Park. 

Big Bend RSP and Big Bend NP are both designated as Dark Sky Parks along with several other state and federal parks in Texas. Areas like Black Gap that are not part of the state or federal parks system lack the protections relating to the development of the land.  

By providing the Sanctuary designation, pristine night skies will be preserved across a vast swath of the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River area. Encompassing 125 miles of river, BBNP and Black Gap WMA will account for one of the largest continuous areas of dark sky protections in the nation.  

The International Dark Sky Association says that without the designation, remote areas like Black Gap don’t have a source of opportunities for public outreach, putting fragile ecosystems in peril. The designation assures that awareness and long-term conservation efforts will keep the natural beauty intact for generations to come. 

Nearby McDonald Observatory is a research and educational observatory that operates through The University of Texas at Austin. The site is a leading location for research on dark energy. 

Visitors to the region are treated to some of the purest night skies possible. With virtually no ambient light sources for miles around, the area is a draw for astrologists, photographers, and adventurers hoping to catch spectacular meteor showers.  

Both the U.S. and Mexican sides of the Rio Grande are federally protected areas. The Maderas del Carmen biosphere reserve is a conservation effort between the U.S. and Mexico to protect areas of the Chihuahuan Desert that straddles the International Border.  

In all, Texas now has two internationally recognized sanctuaries and four state parks. The parks are Big Bend Ranch State Park Complex, Copper Breaks State Park, South Llano River State Park, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.      

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