Rural areas have a chronic need for good paying jobs to support the local economy and to keep the young people from migrating to find employment. Even though a significant portion of the economic activity of the counties of Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, Luna, Sierra, and Socorro in Southwest New Mexico and Apache and Navajo Counties in Arizona involves tourism they lag far behind the rest of their states in attracting visitor's dollars.
The Natural Night Skies of New Mexico and Arizona bring tourists and their dollars from all over the world.
The darkest areas on the map above are islands of natural night sky viewing adjacent to millions of people in Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Las Cruces, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. [Image credit: Light Pollution Atlas 2006]
The geographic extent of the Natural Night Sky
According to Tourism in New Mexico [2011 Analysis] visitors to the state of New Mexico spent $5.5 billion creating more than 85,000 jobs which generated $1.2 billion in taxes.
The same study shows the rural counties of Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, Luna, Sierra, and Socorro in Southwest New Mexico were in the lowest categories of visitor spending. Please see the map below:
When tourists bring money from the outside economic world and buy gas, eat in restaurants, stay in motels, and purchase items from local businesses jobs are created in the local community. Every dollar they bring is worth three dollars to the local economy.
In 2011 Catron County, home of the Cosmic Campground, employed 124 people in tourism. This amounted to 22% of its labor income.
According to "The First World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness," a report on global light pollution published in volume 328, issue 3 (2001) of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, two-thirds of the U.S. population and more than one-half of the European population have already lost the ability to see the Milky Way with the naked eye. Moreover, 63% of the world population and 99% of the population of the European Union and the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) live in areas where the night sky is brighter than the threshold for light-polluted status set by the International Astronomical Union—that is, the artificial sky brightness is greater than 10% of the natural sky brightness above 45° of elevation.
[Image credit: Light Pollution Atlas 2006]
A Tale of Two Counties
According to the 2010 US Census, Union County had a population of 4,297 and Catron County had a a population of 3,536. This gives them population ranks in New Mexico of 30 and 31. Both are away from the heaviest traveled tourist paths. Both are in the bottom tier of New Mexico counties when it comes to visitor spending.
Interestingly, in 2010-2011 visitor spending in Union County increased by +15.6% while in Catron County it increased by only +1.9%. Please see the map below:
What could possibly accomplish this increase in Union County's visitor spending.
The following is from a press release:
29 June 2010 - Tucson, AZ: The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) Board of Directors and Dark Sky Places Committee announced the designation of two International Dark Sky Parks at its 22nd Annual General Meeting and Conference in Tucson, Arizona, USA. Clayton Lake State Park in northeast New Mexico received Gold Tier recognition of their efforts to preserve and protect the nighttime environment while Goldendale Observatory State Park in southern Washington received provisional status for a Silver Tier designation.
Clayton Lake State Park, located in Union County, New Mexico hosts approximately 65,000 visitors per year, many of whom attend star parties at the park’s observatory facility. Park staff and volunteers worked closely with the Town of Clayton and the New Mexico State Parks system to ensure quality lighting guidelines both within the park and in the surrounding community. In 2010 the park completed lighting retrofits to conform 100% with the shielding and spectral considerations for low-light areas. The Reach for the Stars program, initiated in 2004, promotes the night sky as a valuable educational and economic resource for New Mexico.
David J. Simon, director of New Mexico State Parks, states, “We are grateful for this recognition and hope that Clayton Lake State Park is merely the first of many New Mexico State Parks to achieve this distinction.”
The Dark Sky Places Program was started by IDA in 2001 to encourage communities around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education. As of late 2014, IDA has certified 42 Dark Sky Places, extending protection of dark skies to 43,100 square kilometers (16,640 square miles) in nine countries on four continents.
Being Dark Skies Friendly is good for business. According to Tourism in New Mexico [2011 Analysis] , an increase in Catron County' visitor spending by 15.6% would amount to 1.8 million dollars per year. The same study indicates that a 15.6% increase in tourism employment will result in approximately 20 new jobs in Catron County. Tourism labor income there is likely to increase by $280,000.
The Cosmic Campground's website cosmiccampground.org website has had more than 1,700 visitors despite of the fact that it has not been advertised in any tourist publication and that the Cosmic Campground is still in a primitive under-construction phase. Amazingly enough, 25% of the visitors to the Cosmic Campground website are from outside the USA.