When Fountain Hills became the 17th International Dark Sky community in January 2018, it came with a set of responsibilities. Today as one of only 38 certified Dark Sky communities in the world, funding from the Fountain Hills Community Foundation helps the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association (FHDSA) maintain the Town’s unique status.

“To be able to do outreach to educate everyone in our Town and assist Town staff takes funding,” FHDSA President Vicky Derksen said. “Our membership fees don’t cover all of the cost. We rely on grants and people giving out of the kindness of their heart to be able to conduct activities and support our mission.”

The Dark Sky designation is subject to regular review by governing entity DarkSky International to make sure each Community continues to meet the minimum requirements for protecting and restoring natural nighttime darkness. As such, the FHDSA must submit a written report of its activities each year, including dates and descriptions of interpretive events, outreach efforts, and samples of printed materials and press articles. A critical component is the annual sky quality data, which is collected from several locations around town.

Here in Fountain Hills, the FHDSA outreach inspires residents to take pride in the designation as well as understand how they can do their part to protect and preserve the night sky. Quick links on the FHDSA website include a guide for selecting the best lighting for home or business, where to stargaze, how to submit a lighting complaint, as well as links to membership ($25) and the annual report.

One of the most popular outreach activities is the organization’s annual Dark Sky Festival, scheduled to take place on March 30 at the Fountain Hills Community Center and Centennial Circle. Derksen said the festival committee has pulled together “some really cool stuff” for this year’s event.

New events include a collaboration with the Fountain Hills Library where kids can participate in a passport program that takes them through the festival’s activities and enters them to win a drawing for a kids’ bicycle, donated by McDowell Mountain Bikes. Kids of all ages will enjoy ASU’s multi-part exhibit about the building of the Mars Rover.

And as in years past, residents will have an opportunity to hear from leading experts in the dark sky space. Keynote speaker, Jo Marchant, an award-winning science journalist from London, will be presenting information from her book Human Cosmos: Civilization and Stars. Other speakers include Julia Wang who will speak on the impact of light pollution on nocturnal bird migration and author Marsha Diane Arnold, who will read her children’s books, Lights Out! and Armando’s Island at the Fountain Hills Library.

The FHDSA used 2023 funding from the Foundation to purchase a portable sound system, event table, table runner, and costs associated with printing educational materials. The grant keeps the organization focused on its goals of expanding community support for protecting Fountain Hills’ dark skies and natural surroundings and exceeding the minimum requirements for maintaining its Dark Sky designation.

“Fountain Hills is a very unique place,” Derksen said. “To be so close to the 5th most populous city in the United States and have such dark skies… it’s a real privilege to have this designation and it’s up to all of us to keep it in place.”