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Dark Sky Park

Kristi Kates - November 15th, 2010
Dark Sky Park: She’s preserving the star shine at The Headlands in Emmet County
By Kristi Kates
Residents of many rural communities in Northern Michigan are fortunate
to benefit from less light pollution than that which occurs in and
around major cities. One Harbor Springs resident hopes to keep it that
 “The National Parks and Conservation Association estimates that only
10% of the U.S. population is afforded the opportunity to see the
night sky in its natural state,” Mary Stewart Adams explains.
Adams, a Dark Sky advocate, is working towards having a location in
Emmet County specially-designated as a Dark Sky Park, which is, as she
explains it, “a public, protected place with exceptional night sky
That’s pretty much the basics - but becoming an accredited Dark Sky
Park is another thing entirely.

Many Dark Sky initiatives are being presented around the country (see in an effort to fight light pollution and give people
the opportunity to see the night sky as it should be seen. Adams, who
points out that there are only four official Dark Sky Parks in the
U.S. (there are also Dark Sky Preserves, and some cities designated as
Dark Sky Communities), explains that there are even distinctions
within these locales.
“You can be a Dark Sky Park with bronze, silver or gold designation,
depending on the quality of dark sky in your location,” she says.
Creating a Dark Sky Park also takes a commitment on the part of the
people involved in stewarding the land in question.
International designation as a Dark Sky Park, however, is something
granted by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) in Tucson,
Arizona and involves a rigorous process of application, approval and
“There must be public nighttime access, and the sky itself must be an
outstanding dark sky resource relative to the population it serves,”
Adams explains. “Existing lights must be inventoried, and the night
sky must be measured as to quality and darkness to determine the level
of designation we are eligible for. Our application must also show how
the lighting guidelines have affected change and lighting design in
the park.”

So what are the reasons for all of this effort? There are many - some
astronomy-based or astrology-focused, and some more grounded in
terrestrial matters.
“Having dark skies allows for enhanced naked eye and telescopic
viewing of the worlds beyond our own,” Adams says. “It provides a safe
and natural environment for nocturnal creatures, and it is also fuel
for the imagination. Most cultural beliefs are based on our
understanding of our place in the cosmic order. A Dark Sky Park
benefits astronomers and astrologers alike, for essentially they are
both storytellers, telling the stories of the stars that can be seen
overhead, providing light pollution doesn’t diminish our ability to
see. Ours is a time of using the amazing technology available to us to
explore the physical environment out there.”
The Emmet County site, which will be at The Headlands, a 600-acre
county-owned park two miles west of Mackinaw City, boasts pristine
woods and miles of undisturbed shoreline. It is densely populated with
trees and wildlife, and was chosen because of its ideal locale, its
dark environment, and -- although it might at first seem
counterintuitive -- its adjacency to one of Michigan’s primary tourist
“Being near Mackinaw allows us to send a wonderful message to a lot of
people, and demonstrates our intention to protect our resources,”
Adams says.

Adams’ work on the Dark Sky Park has been tireless, involving many
presentations and negotiations with Emmet County Commissioners, who
have, Adams says, “unanimously supported our efforts from the
beginning.” Petoskey resident Mary Lou Tanton and Mackinaw City
author/columnist Fred Gray have helped her spearhead the plan, and
she’s also working with Parks and Recreation Director Laurie Gaetano
and Director of Emmet County Planning and Zoning Brentt Michalek. A
letter of nomination from Northern Michigan astronomer Patrick
Stonehouse has also been acquired.
A county resolution and guidelines for the Headlands Dark Sky Park are
expected to be drafted and submitted to the IDA before the end of this
year. In the meantime, Adams continues to pursue her other astronomy
and astrology-related activities, which include teaching, writing, and
the publishing of her interactive night sky lore/fairy-tale calendar,
which she’s dubbed Fairy Tale Moons.
“We’ve hosted several wonderful events and star parties while we’re
waiting,” Adams says, “there is no need to wait for (official)
designation to experience the wonders of the night.”

Adams also points out many interesting astronomical events that are
taking place soon, including the total lunar eclipse that will happen
just hours before the Winter Solstice on December 21.
“It will be visible from Northern Michigan,” she says, “and it’s also
occurring two years prior to the much-talked-about end of the Mayan
Adams says that the best way to experience this event, or the night
sky itself, is simply to go outside and look up - after you’ve
adjusted your own household outdoor lighting to maximize your viewing
“Do your own lighting inventory,” she suggests, “position, time, and
measure your outdoor lights so that they emit only the amount of light
The next step is to get a star map. “Michigan State University
publishes an internationally-acclaimed sky map for the very reasonable
price of $11 a year,” Adams points out.
Or get more education on what you’re looking for by visiting one of
the observa-tories in the region, of which we have two: the Rogers
Observatory of Northwest Michigan College in Traverse City, and the
Besser Museum Observatory in Alpena.
“And of course, there are the ongoing events at the Headlands and my
own Fairy Tale Moons calendar,” Adams says.
“There are dark skies all over northern Michigan,” she says, “but
creating an intentional Dark Sky Park raises awareness and fosters

More info on progress of the Dark Sky Park designation may be found at and a special overnight program and
eclipse viewing event will be held at the Headlands guest House on
Dec. 21. Mary Stewart Adams’ Fairy Tale Moons calendars for 2011 are
available for sale locally in independent bookstores and through her
website, She will be giving talks at Between
the Covers in Harbor Springs on Nov. 26, at the Petoskey Open House on
Dec. 3, and at both Horizon Books in Traverse City and Petoskey on
Dec. 18.

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