The Headlands: International dark sky park

Emmet County, just 2 miles west of Mackinaw City, is home to one of only 11 dark sky parks in the world.

Emmet County has a fantastic park located just 2 miles west of Mackinaw City, Mich. The Headlands recreation area consists of more than 600 forested acres, nearly an entire square mile. The Michigan Northern Counties Association (MNCA) recently visited as part of a day-long tour hosted by Emmet County which included the Headlands and the county’s Recycling Center. Michigan State University Extension assists the MNCA with educational programs.

The Headlands includes four miles of trails and 2+ miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, and is easily accessible. The McGulpin Point lighthouse, also owned by the county, is nearby. The Headlands was established by Roger McCormick of the McCormick farm machinery family in the late 1950’s, and includes a guest house he built that is available to rent for group outings.

The most important feature of The Headlands, however, is that it is an International Dark Sky Park. The brochure defines a dark sky park as, “…a park or other protected public land possessing exceptional starry skies and natural nocturnal habitat where light pollution is mitigated and natural darkness is valuable as an important educational, cultural, scientific and natural resource.”

Designation of a dark sky park is made by the International Dark Sky Association, which is based in Tucson, Ariz. Requirements for designation include an on-going educational program.

Much more information is available at the Emmet County Dark Sky Park website, including programs planned for 2013 and 2014. The site also explains how to get to the park, facilities available and other things you will need to know, with details like a reminder to dress for weather ten degrees less than expected so you are prepared for the cool breezes coming off Lake Michigan. The park is open 24 hours/day at no charge, but no camping units are allowed.

The Dark Sky Park includes a designated dark sky viewing area on the lakeshore, accessed from a mile long Discovery Trail which features, “…cultural docents, indigenous artwork and regional photography that interpret humanity’s relationship to the night sky over the centuries and across a variety of cultures.”

The Dark Sky Program Director is Mary Stewart Adams, an award-winning historian, storyteller and author who writes and speaks extensively about humanity’s cultural relationship to the night sky based on her nearly 30 years of immersing herself in the history of star knowledge.

Come to northern Michigan often and enjoy the spectacular starry skies!

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