Grant From Friends Group Helps Preserve Night Skies Over Big Bend National Park

Keeping night skies dark at Big Bend National Park is being aided by Friends of Big Bend National Park. Sunset through the Window by Eric Leonard, NPS.

It's no secret the National Park Service lacks the budget it needs to properly take care of the 391 units of the National Park System. Thankfully, there are groups such as Friends of Big Bend to help meet some of the needs, such as improved lighting to help minimize light pollution at Big Bend National Park.

The friends group recently gave the park a $30,000 grant, half of which is earmarked for improved outdoor lighting in the Chisos Basin. Big Bend provides some of the most spectacular night sky viewing in the lower 48 states, and Friends of Big Bend has contributed a total of $28,000 to the park for lighting improvements. Another $15,000 was gifted to the park to provide a design for the proposed improvements to the Fossil Bone Exhibit. The money for both projects was raised through the sale of the Big Bend license plate.

Earlier this summer the park completed the first phase of a partnership project to improve exterior lighting throughout the park. The first-phase accomplishments included dramatic improvements to the exterior lighting at the Panther Junction Visitor Center and the Panther Junction Service Station. That work was accomplished through the Best Lighting Practices Grant. This program, funded and technically supported by Musco Lighting and facilitated by the National Park Foundation, provides the National Park Service's Denver Service Center with the necessary resources to define and document standards for best lighting practices within the Park Service.

The Best Lighting Practices efforts intend to improve the quality of lighting, minimize the energy consumption, provide adequate lighting, and reduce the night sky pollution.

The newly installed night sky-friendly lighting at the Panther Junction’s visitor center entrance uses LED lighting with shielded fixtures. By focusing the light on the intended target and shielding the source from the observer’s eye, a superior lighting environment is created even at substantially lower lighting levels. As a result, lighting at the center’s entrance, for example, has been reduced from 480 watts to 6 watts and the light sources are unnoticeable just beyond the entrance area.

The overall exterior lighting at Panther Junction Main Headquarters and the nearby service station provides a 98% energy reduction. The new lighting allows the visitor to easily access the after-hours maps and information available at the visitor center entrance while also allowing park staff to safely access the parking areas and building entrances.

Friends of Big Bend National Park is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support, promote and raise funds for Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River in partnership with the National Park Services and other supporters who value the unique qualities of this national resource along the Rio Grande.