There were a lot of smiling faces among the nearly 2500 visitors to the 2023 Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association’s Dark Sky Festival – and some of the biggest belonged to the organization’s board members themselves. Organizers knew there would be a big turnout so they were prepared, thanks in part to a grant from the Fountain Hills Community Foundation.

“We used our 2022 funds for membership development,” President Vicky Derksen said. “We launched our membership drive in September of 2021, then organized two membership events in 2022. As we started bringing the members together and they started interacting with each other on that small scale, they wanted to get more involved, which led to more volunteers for the festival.”

In addition to helping with the festival, the nearly 150 members also represent the organization in other community events, such as the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade and Fountain Hills Day. Membership dues provide funds for outreach and awareness. More importantly, perhaps, is the influence these constituents have on friends and neighbors.

“The more members we have, the more people who are aware of the importance of dark sky preservation,” Derksen said. “They’ve become, in a way, ambassadors for what we do in the neighborhoods, and with their own friends and family.”

On January 8, 2018, Fountain Hills was designated the world’s 17th International Dark Sky Community. Derksen, who is also the author of the Night Sky Tourist blog and podcast, said the organization will be using the 2023 grant monies they received from the FHCF to implement other small scale community events in order to create more awareness, education, and participation in defense of Fountain Hills’ beautiful dark sky backdrop.

“We have a very, very unique treasure here that, even though we live near the fifth largest metro in the United States, we have significantly darker skies compared to other communities that live close to other metro areas,” she said. “Now that we have a Dark Sky designation, we see our role as providing awareness and education to our own community. The more we can educate, the more things people will do on their own properties to help with maintaining our dark skies.