Michigan astronomers, stargazers and nature lovers welcomed news this week that the state designated three new areas as Dark Sky Preserves. Rockport State Recreation Area, Negwegon State Park, and Thompson’s Harbor State Park join a handful of other places throughout Michigan where you can view the night sky free of light pollution.
Why Do Dark Skies Matter?
For many years, I lived in the city. There was a street light on the corner of every block. I can’t remember even seeing the moon, let alone the stars, from my urban backyard. The bright lights of the city obscured the natural light in the night sky.
Then I moved to the country where only a porch light illuminates the night. I’ll never forget the first time I took our dogs out after dark when we moved into our current home. I looked up and thousands of small lights twinkled down at me. I wasn’t just looking at a handful of bright stars either. They blanketed the entire sky. It took my breath away! Of course, I’d seen stars before, but it was so infrequent. I forgot how beautiful they were. After nine years, I’m still in awe when I look up in my backyard after dark. I don’t have a full view of the stars though, because lights from a town eight miles away obscure the sky to the north.
Today most Americans live where light pollution hides our view of the night sky. Designated Dark Sky Areas provide a place where we can go to see the Milkyway, point out the Big Dipper to our kids, watch a lunar eclipse and even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights if we’re lucky. Looking up the at the innumerable stars, you can’t help but feel inspired and amazed by our vast universe.
Dark Sky Viewing Areas in Michigan
Designated Dark Sky Areas must be free of light pollution from nearby towns and cities and install special lighting that doesn’t interfere with viewing the night sky.
- Headlands International Dark Sky Park – Located in Emmet County on the Straits of Mackinac, this is the only park in Michigan certified by the IDA. The park is open 24 hours a day, every day. Admission is free. The two and a half miles of undeveloped shoreline is free from light pollution and perfect for night sky viewing. Special instructor-lead programs are available throughout the year.
- Lake Hudson State Recreation Area – Lake Hudson is the only designated Dark Sky Area in Southwest Lower Michigan. A clear horizon gives nighttime visitors a great view of the stars.
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Sleeping Bear Dunes is not a designated Dark Sky Park, but surrounded by dense forest with little artificial light, they welcome and encourage visitors who want to stargaze. Some of the recommended areas in the park for viewing the sky are stop number 3 along Pierce Stocking Drive, the Dune Climb parking area and Platte River Point.
- Wilderness State Park – Located in Emmet County, this park also has Lake Michigan shoreline that provides a clean view of the night sky.
- Port Crescent State Park – Here you can view the stars in Michigan’s Thumb along the shores of Lake Huron.
- Rockport State Recreation Area – On Lake Huron, north of Alpena with views along the beach for stargazing.
- Negwegon State Park – Rustic and undeveloped beach along Lake Huron north of Alpena offers a secluded place for viewing the night sky.
- Thompson’s Harbor State Park – Another rustic park along Lake Huron with clear views of the night sky.
*All state and national parks require admission fees.
What to Bring for Night Sky Viewing
- Bring a flashlight with a red lens, so you can see where you’re going, since there is little light at Dark Sky Areas. The red lens won’t interfere with viewing the stars. Make your own by simply taping a piece of red cellophane over the head of your flashlight.
- It can get chilly at night in Michigan, even in the summer. Dress appropriately for the season and wear layers.
- Camping is allowed only in designated areas of the parks, not necessarily at the viewing locations. You can bring chairs, blankets and coolers with refreshments. Some places will allow campfires. The Headlands does not allow any camping anywhere in the park.
- Binoculars and telescopes will give you an even better view of the stars.
- Bring a camera to take photos of the night sky. A tripod will help you get clear photos that aren’t blurry with the longer exposure necessary for low light situations.