Since it opened in 2012, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park – one of only 16 certified dark sky parks in the U.S. – has had plenty of local love and national media attention.
Some attribute the growth and success of the park to its program director, Mary Stewart Adams, who also happens to be its biggest fan.
KRISTI KATES FOR EXPRESS: Mary, since we first interviewed you in 2012, it’s apparent that the park is doing wonderfully. To what do you attribute its success to date?
MARY STEWART ADAMS: Mainly I would attribute our success to the general longing that exists in people for authentic connections with the natural environment. Our technology is amazing and dazzling and, admittedly, tiring. So people welcome the kind of reprieve that a dark wilderness can provide. Also, the team of people at work behind the scenes at Emmet County who package our message in accessible ways show up at events with assistance and enthusiasm.
EXPRESS: What are currently some of the most popular things about the park?
ADAMS: The fact that it’s free and always open. Also, the location of the park on the shores of Lake Michigan make it an unparalleled experience day and night. Our Dark Sky Discovery Trail is still quite popular. And our programs!
EXPRESS: And what are some of the things at the park that have grown in an unexpected way - things that perhaps you didn’t expect to become as popular as they are today?
ADAMS: I didn’t realize how much enthusiasm there was for the simple pleasure of knowing the name of the object you’re looking at and its story. I have been challenged in my work by not being an astronomer, so it has really been amazing and humbling how many people want the “storyteller’s” approach.
EXPRESS: In our first discussion, you told me about a “dream stage” of the concept plan for the park, which included building a planetarium, revitalizing the pier along the shore, and installing telescope pads. Where are you in the planning process?
ADAMS: The Emmet County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to fund the engineering plans, so we are heavily into the research and design phase now. It takes time to do these things well. We got funding for an outdoor amphitheater and telescope pads, so we are at work integrating those things into a plan that includes the observatory with telescope and indoor program space.
EXPRESS: What are some of the specific events that are planned for this spring and summer?
ADAMS: We just hosted our popular Owl Banding and Stargazing event, for studying the migration of the northern saw-whet owls – we were at capacity for both nights – and that was followed by the first in a series of four total lunar eclipses, so it’s the beginning of a very intriguing cycle.
In July, we’re hosting Lights Out Across the Straits/Across the Bay, a friendly competition between Mackinaw and St. Ignace in the Straits, and Petoskey and Harbor Springs on Little Traverse Bay to see who can achieve the greatest darkness the night of the Delta Aquarid meteor showers on July 29.
I’m also doing two midnight meteor shower cruises with Shepler’s [Mackinac Island Ferry] in August, and we’re hosting a fun Harvest Moon Dance at the park on Sept. 5.
EXPRESS: Speaking of “lights out,” how much of the park’s appeal is people realizing that light pollution is an environmental concern?
ADAMS: Clearly our timing was perfect.
Right now we are riding the wave of attention being generated by the new lighting requirements sweeping across the U.S. In fact, the UN has sanctioned 2015 as the International Year of Light and Lighting Science, so the interest in natural darkness is growing.
EXPRESS: And on a more personal level, what has the park given back to you?
ADAMS: This is a great question, thank you.
This work has affirmed what I now recognize has been a lifetime of striving. I didn’t always know that my passion for story and poetry and rhythm and stars would provide me with such an incredible base from which to work. And the response from the community, from the country, and from the Dark Sky Association has really been amazing. It is true what Joseph Campbell said: “Follow your bliss!”
For more information about current programs at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, visit emmetcounty.org or the park’s Facebook page.
MARY’S DARK SKY PARK PICKS FAVORITE PLANET
“Venus. In ancient mystery schools, Venus was not only regarded as the goddess of love and beauty, but also as the only ‘celestial being’ that could look into the secrets of the human heart.”
“Corona Borealis, the starry crown. There are many reasons I love it, including the fact that all the stars that make it up are moving together.”
BEST DARK SKY PARK EVENT TO DATE
“One my favorites has been ‘A Poet and an Astronomer,’ the program I hosted with astronomer Patrick Stonehouse, who discovered a comet in 1998 right from Northern Michigan.”
FAVORITE SKYGAZING MUST-HAVES
“A good companion with enthusiasm and patience; a warm blanket; and my sky calendar from MSU’s Abrams Planetarium.”
MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO
“Maybe this sounds sappy, but the people I get to share the upcoming summer of skygazing with. I’m also looking forward to the promise of incredible moons over the Straits of Mackinac.”