2017-11-23 / Front Page

Park Earns Award

Dark Sky ‘Place of The Year’ at Straits
By Erich T. Doerr

Mackinaw City’s Headlands International Dark Sky Park was honored Saturday, November 11, with the International Dark-Sky Association’s (IDA) first Dark Sky Place of the Year award during the organization’s 29th annual general meeting in Boston. The award is intended to recognize exceptional achievement in the preservation of the night sky. The Headlands was selected for the inaugural award because of the vast variety of programs it offers in addition to the views it offers of the skies above.

“This is thrilling and very gratifying,” Headlands Program Director Mary Stewart Adams said. “There were some amazing parks that were eligible for this award, so the fact that the Headlands was singled out is amazing.”

Ms. Adams and Emmet County Parks and Recreation Director Laurie Gaetano both traveled to Boston to receive the award.

“The Headlands has, for its six years since receiving its IDA Dark Sky Park designation, consistently gone above and beyond regarding the number and variety of dark sky programs it presents to the public,” IDA program manager John Barentine said in a release. “No other Dark Sky Park quite compares in this regard.”

The award is for any International Dark Sky Park around the world that has been established for at least three years. Today there are 56 Dark Sky Parks around the world, with 27 of them being eligible for this first award. The Headlands park, covering more than 600 acres of forested area on the Lake Michigan side of the Straits of Mackinac, was founded in 2011 and was just the ninth park created globally and the sixth in the United States.

Ms. Adams thinks this award will exponentially help promote the Headlands, noting the international nature of the Dark Sky community. She and Ms. Gaetano spoke with a man from Greece during their Boston trip who told them his organization would be using the Headlands as one of its models while it develops its own Dark Sky Park proposal.

“We are having an impact in the dark sky community,” Ms. Adams said. “This is making us a more desirable place to come.”

No other Dark Sky Parks can compete with the diversity of programs offered by the Headlands, ranging from programs focusing on myths and music to those that include visiting expert astronomers. Ms. Adams is pleased with how the park’s new Waterfront Event Center and its accompanying observatory are opening up the park to a lot of new programs, offering a chance to look beyond what the human eye can see alone into what can be seen further into deep space.

Ms. Adams said the park’s programs aim to build steps between what can be seen by just looking up at the night sky and everything that lies beyond that. On a clear night, the human eye can usually see about 5,000 to 10,000 objects in the heavens above, but with today’s technology it is possible to look much farther, with more than 900 million objects known now.

Some of its programs highlight the discoveries astronomers have made in the last century. Ms. Adams noted that less than 100 years ago it was thought that the Milky Way was the only galaxy, but today it is thought likely that there are billions of them.

The Headlands’ next event will be a winter solstice program Thursday, December 21, at 4 p.m. inside the Waterfront Event Center. This program will cost $5 to attend and will feature live music in the form of drumming, something Ms. Adams said is intended to tie the event in with the rhythm of the year. The program will also include the creation of a journal to contemplate the year behind and the year ahead. Reservations are not required.

The physical Dark Sky Place of the Year award will eventually be displayed at the Headlands in the Waterfront Event Center along with several of the park’s other awards it has received over the years. Once a display area is designed, Ms. Adams expects that this award will be one of the ones placed front and center because of its importancee.

The IDA gives out several awards each year, including a lifetime achievement award and a Dark Sky Defender award with the latter geared toward those who work to preserve the night sky or improve technology in the lighting industry. Ms. Adams was previously honored with the Dark Sky Defender award in 2012.

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