A patch of land under the pristine the night sky in Michigan has just been designated as one of only six Dark Sky Parks in the nation. While many conservation group have been focused on preserving the natural world here on earth, the International Dark Sky Association has been working at keeping civilization from washing out the evening sky, which has been slowly disappearing under the ceaseless bleeding of city lights. Many children in the developed world may not get an opportunity to see a sky full of stars and the vast Milky Way, but those who venture to “The Headlands” north of Petoskey in Emmet County, will be able to gaze and wonder at the vast beauty of the universe laid bare before them.
The 600 acre property is an old-growth forest set along Lake Michigan near Mackinaw City. The park was designated after four years of careful light measurements by the IDA, who tracked down errant lighting on adjacent properties and created a strict lighting policy. The result is the preservation of the night sky for dedicated astronomy buffs and casual stargazers alike.
The designation is not just for those who are lucky enough to spend an evening at the park — the IDA also seeks to spread awareness about dark skys. In the last century civilization has dramatically altered the landscape, but it could be argued that our wiping out the pristine night sky with artificial lights has created the most sweeping change. The result is the onset of light pollution, which has a wide ranging effect on ecology and potential psychological effects on humans. Where most of the earth’s night sky would be classified as as pristine just 150 years ago, the designation has now dwindles to less than 5% — an astonishing change.
The culprits are many — buildings facades lit from below, light shining out from windows, area lighting with poor cut-off, lights left on, or simply too much lighting in places like parking lots. The result is a dramatic change in the environment for many species as well as the lost opportunity for humans to reconnect to the stars and galaxies overhead that inspire and remind us of our place in the universe.