Close to 50 people attended a dark skies town hall at the Red Pattillo Community Center in Terlingua on April 24. Vacation rental operators, Big Bend Conservation Alliance, McDonald Observatory staff, and Brewster County Tourism Council board members were among those present.
Brewster County Commissioner, Pct. 2, Sara Colando called for the meeting in response to community pushback after commissioners voted against supporting House Bill 4305 at their April 14 meeting.
HB 4305 would allow the Tri-County, including Jeff Davis, Presidio, and Brewster counties, the option to spend a proportion of hotel and occupancy taxes on dark skies infrastructure.
Controversy over that decision highlighted the need for stakeholders to get on the same page.
The town hall, which lasted about three hours, provided a platform for residents to vent frustrations, and more importantly, find a path forward.
Many expressed a concern over what they felt was the tourism council pushing for unfettered tourism growth, without addressing the consequences of that growth, all while not taking into account a greater vision for the region.
Tourism Council board members countered, saying they were eager to be a part of the solution.
Tourism Council President Bill Ivey noted that HOT fund expenditures were still at a reduced rate since the advent of the pandemic, yet visitation remained high. Board member Linda Walker explained that the council justified paying for two roll-away dumpsters in Study Butte during March by calling spring break a “special event,” something they were willing to do to help address the growing need for trash solutions.
Attendees stressed the growing draw of night skies in the area, and a desire to run with that as a defining part of the Big Bend experience in the future.
The group came up with the idea to erect highway signage communicating the area’s dedication to dark night skies. The language and other details were not fully hashed out, but Tourism Council board members expressed support, saying something like that could be paid for under the existing tax code.
“Let us know,” Ivey encouraged the group.
Anyone can attend the board’s open meetings or submit letters with ideas and proposals.
Greg Henington, owner of Far Flung Outdoor Center, an adventure company in Terlingua, announced his plans to host a tourism summit in July.
Henington recognized the need for business owners and residents to sit at the same table and brainstorm.
“What do we want to look like? What changes do we want to see?” he asked.
Amber Harrison with Big Bend Conservation Alliance said the dark skies arm of that group would be reactivating, and asked the community to attend future meetings.
People stayed long after the meeting to continue the conversations and to make plans to move forward with projects like the dark sky signage. Stakeholders left encouraged to stay tuned for meeting announcements and to continue their path of civic engagement.