Will the Dark Sky Park Ever Be So Stellar Again?
The first summer after Mary Stewart Adams' departure
By Ross Boissoneau | May 26, 2018
Recent controversy isn’t slowing down the Headlands Dark Sky Park a bit, said Marci Schmiege, the director of parks and recreation for Emmet County.
“The park is open 24/7. We have a new gift shop that just opened and the observatory is open. It’s doing very well,” said Schmiege, who adds that the park will offer a full slate of summer activities. “We have the Northern Michigan Astronomy Club to help people understand [the stars], geocaching, a summer fun run — there’s lots to do.”
Former program director Mary Stewart Adams, who tendered her resignation in March, is hopeful the park will continue to enthrall visitors, though she is clearly disappointed that she will no longer be part of it. “I intended to make Emmet County the source and resource [for dark sky information] in this region of the world,” she said.
Indeed, the park’s designation is a rare honor. When the 550-acre park — boasting two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline and several species of rare and endangered plants — became an international dark sky park in 2011, it was only the sixth in the country and ninth in the world. Adams was the driving force behind the push, having worked on it, with the county’s blessing, since 2009.
She said the sudden death of county administrator Lyn Johnson in 2014, then a large turnover in the county board of commissioners in the 2016 election, resulted in entirely new leadership for the county, which in turn led to a change in attitude toward the activities at the Headlands. “The change in leadership meant a change in vision. They shifted gears,” she said.
That led to a change in her status as well. Where Adams had been an independent contractor, a position funded through both the nonprofit Dark Sky Coast Association and the county, she became a full-time Emmet County employee. She said she found the resulting atmosphere contentious and believed her ideas and direction were not being supported. She ultimately resigned after just over two months as a full-time county employee, telling the board she felt forced to do so.
The Headlands earned several accolades during her tenure. They include the Pure Award at the Pure Michigan Governor's Conference on Tourism, one of only two times the award was given, and Dark Sky Place of the Year from the International Dark-Sky Association.
Adams readily acknowledges that she is not an astronomer. Her interest in the skies comes from a more humanistic standpoint. She calls herself a star lore historian. “My degree is in English literature. I was always enthralled by the rhythm and rhyme of speaking,” she said.
She translated the movements and patterns of the stars and planets into a similar rhythm. She was also beguiled by what she calls “the mystery of astrology” — not the foretelling the future but the way ancient studies of the skies influenced religion, architecture, and agriculture. For her efforts, she was named a NMEAC awardee 2012.
Adams is hopeful she can continue to find opportunities to captivate others with stories about the night skies. She continues to regularly air her popular segment on Interlochen Public Radio, “Storyteller’s Guide to the Night Sky.”
“Interlochen called me to do a weekly program,” she said. Titles include “Jupiter and Venus in a Love Game,” “The Starry Crown after the Snow” and “The Starry Pillars of Wisdom.” She also narrates some Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry cruises on the straits.
Toni Drier, the county commissioner for District 1, which includes the Headlands, said the county is committed to determining the best use for the park. “We’ll still keep the Dark Sky Park [designation]. It is very well attended,” Drier said. She went on to say that Schmiege is committed to enhancing and expanding the experience at all the county’s parks.
County administrator John Calabrese echoed Drier’s statements. “We intend to continue to be a Dark Sky Park and keep that designation,” he said. He declined to discuss what led to Adams’ departure.
For her part, Adams continues to believe in the Headlands and hopes it thrives, though she admitted it still stings to no longer be a part of something she put such effort into over several years. “I want it to be successful, but it hurts,” she said.
See Heaven From Earth
The expansive grounds, trails, and viewing areas at Headlands are open 24 hours a day, every day, at no charge. Visitors are welcomed to stay out through the night for dark-sky viewing opportunities, but overnight camping is not allowed.
The Headlands is not intended as an overnight sleeping destination but instead is designed as a place to view the heavens. Attendees may bring blankets, sleeping bags, chairs, food, beverages, etc. To protect the darkness of the park, the park asks that visitors use red-filtered flashlights.
The programs take place rain or shine, and no reservations are required unless otherwise noted.
Among the highlights for this year:
June 18 Crescent Moon Monday with Norbert Vance, Professor of Astronomy, Eastern Michigan University
June 21 Celebration of Native American Seasonal Traditions
July 29 Geocaching at the Headlands
Aug. 5 Fun Run
Aug. 9-11 Star party
The Headlands is located at 15675 Headlands Rd, Mackinaw City. Call (231) 427-1001 or email email@example.com. For details and a complete schedule, go to midarkskypark.org and/or visit the park’s Facebook page.
To follow Mary Stewart Adams' radio program, go to: www.storytellersnightsky.com.