The Magic of Northern Michigan’s Dark Sky Park

To look up at a star-filled night sky is to wonder and dream.

For people living in urban or light-polluted areas, the experience can be less than wondrous, with many stars and other celestial bodies hidden from view.

If your sky view is lacking because of where you live, a trip to the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City is definitely in order. You’ll find 600 acres of old-growth forest and more than two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline, all undiluted by light pollution.

The park was designated an official dark sky park in May 2011 by the International Dark Sky Association. At the time, it was only the sixth in the United States and ninth in the world. Since then, about twenty more parks have been recognized.

Mary Stewart Adams is the Dark Sky Program Director at the park and helped shepherd the property through the designation process. Stewart Adams has a degree in literature and uses her background to put on programming that marries the humanities with science. The Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra has performed at the park, as have Native American storytellers. Stewart Adams said there’s really no limit to the types of programming that can be set against the expansive night sky.

“I’m not a preservationist and I’m not an astronomer,” Stewart Adams said. “What motivates me is trying to protect and safeguard the human imagination.”

She recalls a man visiting from China who had never witnessed the night sky without illumination. He was so overwhelmed, he started to cry.

“That is just such an essential human experience and it’s heartbreaking to think that there are some people without access to that,” she said.

Stewart Adams said visitors to the park should aim to get there before sunset for the best experience. She said you’ll be able to get your bearings before it’s completely dark and enjoy seeing those first stars come out. The park is open 24 hours a day and admission is free.

Visitors are welcome to stay through the night, although tents and campers are not permitted. The idea is that you’ll stay up all night and watch the stars! Plenty of campsites are nearby at other parks, and hotels and motels are plentiful in Mackinaw City. There’s also an on-site guest house that is available for rent, with capacity for up to 22 people.

Do you enjoy stargazing? What’s your favorite thing about the night sky and where do you go to get the best view? Let us know in the comments.

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Photos courtesy of Headlands International Dark Sky Park


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