‘It would be hard to gaze at the magnificent night sky above UBarU and not feel some form of spiritual connection to the universe.’
The night sky above the UBarU, a Unitarian Universalist camp and retreat center in Texas. (© John Phelps)
Roy Ellzey has a lot to say about the sky—specifically the night sky over UBarU, a Unitarian Universalist camp and retreat located on 142 acres about two hours west of Austin, Texas.
“It would be hard to gaze at the magnificent night sky above UBarU and not feel some form of a spiritual connection to the universe,” says Ellzey, a camp trustee. “For many of us, looking at the sky above UBarU on a clear, quiet night is indeed a spiritual experience; it certainly is for me.”
Part of what makes that sky so awe-inspiring is the work UBarU has done to become certified as a Dark Sky Park. The International Dark-Sky Association, which advocates for protection of the nighttime environment, established the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky. Since then, fourteen communities, thirty-one parks, ten reserves, and two sanctuaries have received the International Dark Sky designation, which is based on strict outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach. With its certification, UBarU became the twenty-second Dark Sky Park in the United States and the thirtieth in the world.
As part of the certification process, outdoor lighting at UBarU was improved to reduce its impact on the night skies, and staff now offer astronomy-themed programming to campers and the public.
Ellzey believes that creating a Dark Sky Park honors the UU Seventh Principle. “Science is discovering that preserving the darkness of the night skies is important for the health of human beings as well as many other species of animals and plants, and even essential for some species’ survival. So becoming a Dark Sky Park is one part of being recognized as good stewards of the Earth and caring for all its inhabitants.”
UBarU is now expanding that stewardship by moving toward renewable energy sources and conserving water resources through a variety of practices, including rainwater collection.
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Sonja L. Cohen is deputy managing editor of UU World and a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.