Valley’s first Night Sky Friendly businesses awarded

Louis Parks, Special to the View

Leaning Pear won one of the inaugural Night Sky Friendly Businesses Awards. (Photo by Clay E. Ewing)

Byron Eckols State Farm won one of the inaugural Night Sky Friendly Businesses Awards. (Photo by Clay E Ewing)

The Wimberley Valley’s first ever Night Sky Friendly Business Awards have been presented to Byron Eckols - State Farm and to the Leaning Pear Restaurant.

The awards are sponsored by the Wimberley Valley Chamber of Commerce, endorsed by the Hill Country Alliance and supported by the Wimberley Valley Dark Sky Committee (WVDSC). They will be presented to companies where the night lighting protects the integrity of our valley’s night sky, and meets the standards of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

“We are extremely proud to present the new Night Sky Friendly Awards to these businesses, and to their owners who have made special efforts to ensure their business lights do not trespass on their neighbors, and do not detract from our ability to see all our wonderful stars,” said Chamber Executive Director Cathy Moreman.

The WVDSC is currently preparing an application to the IDA to get official recognition for the Wimberley Valley as an International Dark Sky Community. “Recognizing businesses that voluntarily meet IDA standards is an important part of that effort,” said WVDSC Chair Shannon du Plessis.

“Byron Eckols and Rachel and Matthew Buchanan (owners of the Pear) have done a great job to get our program off the ground. We know they will be the first of many Wimberley and Woodcreek companies to join the effort to keep the stars twinkling brightly over the Wimberley Valley.”

While both businesses receive the same award, their path to getting it could not have been more different.

Last year, when the Chamber and the Dark Sky Committee were launching the idea, Moreman approached State Farm agent Eckols to be the awards “poster child.” Even though it would mean changes and expenses, Eckols – who has been an agent here since 2011 – obligingly agreed.

“I’m always glad to support Cathy and the Chamber,” Eckols said. “My family has been from the Driftwood area since the 1880s, so anything to help keep the country a little bit country and be able to see the stars at night is pretty important to me.” Eckols has seen how increased lighting has dimmed the once intense sky view. “We are more fortunate in Wimberley than a lot of areas, but it has definitely progressed away from natural light, that’s for sure.”

Eckols did not realize he was going to be more guinea pig than poster child. 

“We were so lucky to start with Byron, because this proved to be a learning experience for the Committee,” says du Plessis.

Asked to move and rewire the lights on his sign from pointing up to pointing down, and to get “night sky friendly” light bulbs, Eckols went to make his purchases. Unfortunately, it turns out there are no universal standards for what can be sold as night sky or dark sky lights and fixtures. Eckols’ new lights and fixtures met some California standards, but didn’t match those of the IDA. Among other things, the CCT (correlated color temperature) – the color  of the new lights – was too blue, which produces more glare, decreases starry sky vision, and disrupts the production of melatonin in people and animals.

It was an embarrassing realization for everyone, especially since the WVDSC is a small volunteer group without funding. Fortunately, Eckols took it all in stride – and a bit in the pocketbook. After receiving more complete information on what was needed, he made the additional changes. Now realizing not all lighting labeled “night sky friendly” really meets those standards, the WVDSC and the Chamber will provide an approved lighting guide to business owners for their purchases.  

The Learning Pear owners had a much easier path to the award; in 2011, when Rachel and Matthew Buchanan started planning the new building for their already popular eatery, Dark Sky ethics were built in. 

“The lighting was important to us,” Matthew Buchanan says. “We wanted to do environmentally responsible construction. Dark Sky lighting was brought up by the architect as a way to achieve that, and we were all for it. Things like having all our lights pointed down, instead of up to the sky, and finding ways we can have things well-lit in a responsible manner, without having light go everywhere.”

They worked that into the design of the whole building. “It hasn’t been a disadvantage in any way,” Buchanan says. “Some people have suggested we put lights shining up into the oak tree outside. We say, well the oak tree is really beautiful, but so is the night sky. We don’t want to pollute the air (with light).”

The WVDSC and the Chamber, with help from the Hill Country Alliance, are beginning to roll out the Night Sky Business program throughout the valley, with the hope that many businesses will want to join in and do their part for our night skies. More information can be found at  and

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