Dark Sky status sought for 3 Michigan parks

May 1, 2014

Credit Morguefile

Friends organizations for two state parks and a state recreation area in Michigan's Lower Peninsula are working together with local officials to have the sites designated as Dark Sky preserves.

Eric Ostrander is supervisor of two of the sites, Negwegon State Park and Rockport State Recreation Area. The third site is Thompson's Harbor State Park. 

"The three parks up here in Northeast Michigan are all great examples of places to come to look at the night sky already,"  he said. "So with this Dark Sky preserve status in the state of Michigan in place, that would just define the fact that we want to protect that."

Ostrander said that like forests and lakes, the night sky is a natural resource and local asset that needs to be preserved. 

"Some folks will come up to the northern portion of Michigan and go out into the areas away from the cities, and they'll say that they can see the night sky clearly and the stars, " he said. "And you can't always do that in an area where there's a lot of that lighting that projects into the night."

Sue Keller, Friends of Negwegon president , said that light pollution is making it harder for Americans to view the night sky where they live.  She said about two-thirds of U.S. residents cannot see the Milky Way from where they live.

Ostrander and Keller agree that Dark Sky status will enhance tourism in the region by drawing stargazers, astronomers and nature lovers.

Ostrander said that the Dark Sky designation means that lighting in the parks would  be installed only when necessary and in a way to protect the night sky, such as downwardly directed and shielded fixtures.  The designation does not apply to areas outside the parks.

Ostrander said Michigan currently has three state-designated Dark Sky preserves.

According to a 2012 report by the House Fiscal Agency, Michigan became the first state in the United States to designate an area of public land as a Dark Sky preserve with the passage of a state law in 1993. The law would need to be amended to add the three new sites.

–Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom