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Tue August 6, 2013
Michigan has one of world's few 'dark sky parks' for stargazers
If you live in the city or the suburbs and you travel to the country, the first thing that often strikes you after the sun goes down is the incredible show in the night skies.
The difference between what city-dwellers see each night, and the same sky when you're on the shore of Lake Michigan in Emmett County is unbelievable.
That's the magic behind the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, a 600 acre park along the shore of Lake Michigan near Mackinaw City.
It's one of only 10 designated dark sky parks in the world.
Mary Stewart Adams, the program director at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, joined us from Emmett County.
Adams said the park was owned by Emmett County and turning it into a "dark sky park" required the consent of the county commissioners.
The county then went to the International Dark Sky Association to get the park certified.
"It required creating lighting ordinance about the property that was more strict than the existing lighting ordinance in the county," said Adams.
"It also meant doing a lighting inventory of any existing light on the property -- bringing it into compliance - writing a master lighting plan -- getting a lot of the community leaders and stakeholders to write letters of support -- and then to have ongoing educational programming that's accessible, that's free, and [to have] the ability of folks to come anytime of the day or night and to witness this wonderful wilderness."
Parks normally close at night, this one doesn't. Emmett County allows the public to have access to the shoreline at night.
Adams says some of the most interesting things are happening in the night sky "in the wee hours."
"For instance, when the meteor showers are peaking, it's usually after midnight, and you can be there to watch it," said Adams.
Adams says almost two-thirds of the residents in the United States now live where they cannot see the stars of the Milky Way at night.
She says schools don't typically teach about the night sky either.
"If you put these two things together, that we're not seeing it, nor are we no longer naming it for our youth, then you can see that we're losing something that has been very important to the cultural history of humanity since the beginning of time," said Adams.
She says she developed a passion to give non-astronomers, non-scientists, access to the stories of the night sky.
The same sky, she says, that influenced so much of our religious writings, cultural writings, art, architecture, poetry, mythology and literature.
"It's just thrilling to hear those stories under the same sky, and find yourself in a dark environment where you can see what was also being seen when those things were being created," said Adams.
She says so many of our well-known fairy tales and moral lessons are rooted in the stars.
"Hey Diddle Diddle," for example.
"Every object in that's named in that particular nursery rhyme belongs to a constellation that's visible overhead in the month of May."
The Perseids meteor shower is coming up -- a great time to visit the Headlands International Dark Sky Park.
For more, listen to the full interview above.
And it never can compare to the real thing, but this video of northern Michigan's sky comes pretty close. (We posted on the artist earlier this year).
Environment & Science