“The Stars at Night, Are Big and Bright….Deep in the Heart of Texas!” Right? Well, yes and no. Here in Blanco we are blessed with a dark night sky that lets the Milky Way and all the other stars and planets shine brightly down on the Blanco Valley…sort of. At least that’s the way it used to be, back in the days before light pollution. Unfortunately, if you’re in the city limits or live anywhere close to Blanco, the night sky is not as dark and the stars are not as bright as they used to be. That is because Blanco has a significant “sky glow” problem caused by light pollution.
What is light pollution? Simply put, it is light from outdoor lighting fixtures that goes up into the night sky. It is caused by improperly designed and/or installed lighting fixtures that allow light to escape upward. You can see Blanco’s sky glow yourself by taking a night drive up onto the plateau at the Ranches of Brushy Top or anywhere else high up where you can see the horizon. It’s pretty shocking, really, how such a small town can produce such a large sky glow.
What’s so bad about light pollution and the sky glow it produces? Well, aside from depriving the citizens of Blanco and the surrounding area of the joy of seeing a sparkling night sky, it can be dangerous. Many night sky polluting outdoor lighting fixtures also produce glare, i.e., light that shines annoyingly brightly into one’s eyes when walking or driving down the street. Glare reduces a person’s night vision and can be hazardous, especially for older people whose eyes aren’t what they used to be.
Any lighting fixture that produces glare usually is also guilty of light trespass. That is when light shines over a property line onto other people’s property or onto the public right of way. Light trespass can be especially annoying when a bright light, such as a street light or a “security light,” shines into a person’s window or onto a person’s property that would otherwise be dark. Light trespass interferes with other people’s use and enjoyment of their own property. Light trespassing onto someone’s else’s property is sort of like throwing garbage over the fence….not a very neighborly thing to do.
Light pollution is also wasteful. Many outdoor lighting fixtures send over half of the light produced up into the sky instead of concentrating it on whatever it is they want lighted. That wasted light is wasted energy and that translates into wasted dollars.
Aside from the pure enjoyment of the night sky, safety issues, and energy savings, there is potential to leverage Blanco’s still relatively dark night skies into a tourist attraction that would benefit our bed & breakfasts, motels, restaurants, and other businesses. Other communities have done it and so can we, if we can reduce our light pollution and reclaim our Milky Way. A dark night sky is a community resource that should not be wasted.
Long-term Blanco residents tell fond tales of enjoying the night sky as they were growing up and witnessing one of humanity’s greatest wonders – an unfettered view of the universe as God created it. Many new residents, especially escapees from urban areas, cite the night sky as one of the reasons they moved here. During last year’s Visionaries in Preservation community meetings, preserving Blanco’s night sky was the number one single issue that people wanted to preserve to maintain our rural character and keep Blanco “Blanco.”
With the support of the Blanco City Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission, several citizens are now hard at work measuring the darkness of our night skies to establish a baseline for light pollution abatement efforts, inventorying our existing outdoor lighting fixtures, and working with the city and business owners to encourage voluntary shielding of existing lights as well as other measures to curb light pollution, eliminate glare, and reduce light trespass in Blanco.
With community-wide support, we can get our lights shielded and/or directed down to the ground, get rid of light pollution, and be able to proclaim that “The Stars at Night, are Big and Bright, Here in the Heart of Blanco!”