Catch a Shooting Star at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Did you know that Michigan is home to one of less than 20 certified International Dark Sky Parks in the world? The Headlands International Dark Sky Park is a 600-acre parcel of old-growth forest that sits on more than two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline in Emmet County. Here you will find the darkest of skies, undiluted by light pollution.

Today, guest blogger David Harrell from The Crooked Porch shares his family’s experience marveling at the Pure Michigan Milky Way during a trip to the Headlands.

Photo courtesy of The Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Photo courtesy of The Headlands International Dark Sky Park

My nine-year-old daughter Riley had never seen a shooting star. She told me this a few days ago, as we were talking about the Headlands International Dark Sky Park’s ‘Lights Out Around the Bay’ challenge. She seemed disappointed in this fact, as if she were missing out one of life’s great joys. “That’s why the Dark Sky Park wants us to turn off our lights,” I told her. “So that we can see the full glory of the night sky. We’re lucky where we live [in Harbor Springs], our night sky is pretty magnificent. But the more light that is shone into the air, the less stars and shooting stars you see. And on Tuesday night, there is supposed to be a meteor shower. The park wants us to enjoy the show with as little light pollution as possible.” She quieted down, and I thought her mind migrated to more important topics, like whether or not her favorite boy band singer had posted a new Instagram pic. “Can we stay up and see the stars that night,” she asked a few minutes later. I could only answer yes.

Instead of staying home and watching TV until dark, I decided to take Riley and my twelve-year-old son David to the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, if the sky was clear. The weather forecast called for thunderstorm and rain, but by 8pm the sky was clear of all but a few lingering clouds. So we threw on sweatshirts and jackets, grabbed a towel as a blanket, packed up the camera and drove 40 minutes north to the park.

Emmet County’s Headlands Park was named an International Dark Sky Park in May, 2011, one of only 12 parks  in the US and 17 parks in the world with that designation.  The Dark Sky Viewing Area is located on a secluded shore along Lake Michigan about a mile into the park. We arrived at 9pm, and already the viewing area was packed with about 100 star-gazers. David grabbed his iPhone, ran down to the shore, and took this picture of the sunset.

Riley was intrigued by the park itself, especially the forest. We walked along the shore, stopping to watch the sun sink beneath the distant waves. We found some rocks stacked in funny little towers and a tangle of roots exposed along the beach. We took pictures, tossed around the football, sat in the grass and talked about the stars and why the twilight sky gets dressed in silken gowns of orange, purple, blue and red. When the first stars awoken in the darkening sky, we opened an app on David’s iPhone and learned their names. We were shocked to discover that two of the brightest stars visible in the early twilight hours were Saturn and Mars.

Photo courtesy of David Harrell

Photo courtesy of David Harrell

Once darkness enveloped the park, the show began. Twice this year my family has stayed up late to watch fireworks. I can’t count the number of times we watched movies past midnight. Yet, as I stared up into space, I couldn’t help but wonder why we never stay up to watch the stars. As exciting as fireworks are, or as entertaining a movie or TV show is, nothing could inspire the awe in my children as deeply as staring up into the heavens.

And what a sight we were greeted with. There was practically no ambient light from cities, parking lots or porch lights. There seemed to be more stars than blackness. The Milky Way, appearing like a ghostly cloud across the eastern sky, was visible. We saw numerous satellites. David used his app to point out several constellations. Two gentlemen from Illinois arrived with a massive telescope the size of a small cannon and allowed the three of us to gaze at Saturn’s rings and moons.

When the sky became fully dark, a park representative called for attention from the well over 200 guests. He talked about the park and gave a quick synopsis of the stars, planets, satellites and other objects in the night sky. My son was captivated by the program, especially as the speaker discussed the vast number of stars. My daughter kept a look out for a meteor.

As the night progressed, I tried to take a photograph of the night sky. Unfortunately, it takes more than a nice camera and a tripod to capture an image like the one above. If I was disappointed, it was fleeting. No photograph could ever capture the full majesty of the night sky as we were seeing it.

Photo courtesy of The Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Photo courtesy of The Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Before the advent of electricity, and the flood of light pollution, this was the night. It amazes me to think that there are people in major cities that may live their entire lives without seeing a single star. There are those who have never traced the outline of a constellation or, like my daughter, wished upon a shooting star. At the dawn of human thought, we stared up into the sky in wonder. The stars inspired us, guided us, and forced us into acknowledging how little we know about ourselves and our place in the universe. When I think of the big-box stores and their massive, overly lit parking lots, I grow saddened at the thought that the stars are an endangered species. We have become, as a nation, so afraid of the dark that we keep it at bay with flood lights on our porch. We are losing the night sky.

Just as we were leaving, a brilliant shooting star streaked across the sky. David and I saw it, but Riley was looking away. If she was disappointed, it didn’t show. “I’ll see one next time,” she said as we worked our way back to the car. “Maybe we can stay up late tomorrow night too.”

Have you visited the Headlands? Tell us about your trip. 

David Harrell, is the founder and editor of an online magazine/blog entitled ‘The Crooked Porch‘. The Crooked Porch is about life in Northern Michigan, primarily in the Petoskey region.  After a decade as a museum historian, David nurtured a professional passion for discovering, and more importantly sharing, fascinating and inspiring stories. David lives with his family in Harbor Springs. He loves love local beers, whiskeys, ciders and wines, as well as folk rock and local bands. He is a Michigan sports fan who says every August, “This is the year the Lions will make some noise.” 

Maximize Fall Playing Time With These Michigan Golf Trails

Today, guest blogger Janina Parrott Jacobs tells us how to minimize travel and maximize time on the course by playing through a Michigan golf trail this fall. 

Treetops_12SMT046There’s strength in numbers. Golfers may not normally fly across the country to play just one great course but they’ll consider doing so to play an assortment of superb ones. The folks in Myrtle Beach figured this out years ago when they realized that by banding together, they could create one-stop shopping to promote a stellar array of courses, attractions, and restaurants to golfers who would visit from around the country.

In Alabama, the creation of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail – which runs the entire length of the state from north to south via 11 Trail sites complete with 26 magnificent and affordable courses – was originally fashioned to strengthen the state’s financial health by maximizing investments from retirement funds. Visionary Dr. David Bronner, former CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama and the brainchild behind this idea, borrowed his philosophy from the movie Field of Dreams: ‘if you build it they will come’. He did…and they did.

Yet no state or trail or destination anywhere can match the sheer numbers of courses available for public or resort golf in Michigan. Different regions of the state have connected with each other to attract a wider range of golfers – and not simply from their local area. Here, a number of trail offerings are available to maximize your golf and minimize your drive time so you can enjoy the shorter days of late summer and early autumn.

Photo courtesy of Gaylord Area CVB

Photo courtesy of Gaylord Area CVB

Most people know of the ‘Gold Coast’ resort courses on the west side of the state: Boyne, Grand Traverse, Shanty Creek, Arcadia Bluffs to name a few. North centrally, there’s the Gaylord Golf Mecca, headlined by Treetops Resort – where you can sample ‘The Masterpiece’ an original RTJ Sr. design.  Experience the same inspiration Jones had when looking at the formidable elevation drop to the 6th green when all he saw were treetops…and thus the resort’s name was born.

Further east along US-23 and adjacent to Lake Huron, the Sunrise Side is lesser known but offers a wonderful collection of splendid courses that are surprisingly affordable. Red Hawk, near Tawas, an Arthur Hills design (think ‘Bay Harbor’) is a perfect introduction to the quality of golf you’ll find in the area. Up the road is Lakewood Shores Resort, with the nationally top-ranked links-style Gailes as well as the enjoyable Serradella, Blackshire, and par-3 ‘Wee Links’ courses which sit adjacent to Lake Huron near Oscoda. Alpena Golf Club, River’s Edge (formerly Alpena CC), and Black Lake are must-plays as are Elk Ridge, owned by Honeybaked Ham – you MUST try the ham sandwich at the turn – and Thunder Bay Resort, which offers golf with the added attraction of elk viewing tours via horse drawn wagons in summer and sleighs in the winter…both culminating with a multi-course gourmet dinner cooked on a century-old stove.

Just north and west of Detroit, the Michigan Grand Golf Trail encompasses five upscale courses that are in close proximity: Whispering Pines and Timber Trace in Pinckney, Mystic Creek in Milford, Brentwood in White Lake, and Boulder Pointe in Oxford.

Municipal courses are also getting in on the combine-and-prosper act. The Michigan Municipal Golf Trail, part of the Michigan Recreation and Park Association consists of several public, city, county, and Huron-Clinton Metropark courses. At Dearborn Hills, $20 will get you 18 holes of golf, cart, and a hot dog, chips and pop Monday through Friday from 11am-1pm.

As Fall golf approaches – and this year it seems to be coming early, weather-wise – look for even better deals everywhere in Michigan. At all Boyne courses, fees are based on airlines-style pricing: it all depends when and where you want to play. Being flexible will pay off. Check out all 11 courses spanning 3 resorts at Boyne.

Janina-Jacobs-headshot12-186x250Janina Parrott Jacobs is a lifelong Michigan resident but her passion as a multi-media golf and business specialist and international golf and travel writer takes her all over the world.  Her website, features many other entrepreneurial adventures as a motivational speaker, professional musician and performer, owning Capers Steakhouse in Detroit, and volunteer efforts with the U.S. Navy where she advocates for and mentors young people concerning health, nutrition, and fitness issues.

 

How the Great Turtle Half Marathon Came To Be on Mackinac Island

Anne Gault_Gault Race ManagementWe recently had a chance to sit down with Mackinac Island resident, Anne Gault of Gault Race Management – the team behind the scenes at Mackinac Island’s Great Turtle Half Marathon and 5.7 Mile Run/Walk! This year’s race will be held on October 25, 2014.

Today, Anne gives us an inside look at planning the race and how it came to be on Mackinac Island.

Q: How did you get your start in race management?

A: John (Anne’s Husband) has had a love for running for over 40 years. When we first met we ran together as a couple with a running club in mid-Michigan. Participating in club events it became apparent the need for a computerized scoring system at race events. We started the company nearly 20 years ago, and have been fulltime with Gault Race Management for the past 15 years.

Photo courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism

Photo courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism

Q: Why Mackinac Island?

A: We fell in love with Mackinac Island, and were married there. We now own a condo on the island so we are part time residents. John’s been involved in the Mackinac Island Eight Mile & Kids Run since its inception. We started the Great Turtle Half Marathon and 5.7 Mile Run/Walk weekend because the island holds a special place in our heart but also because we felt fellow runners should share in the beauty that is Mackinac Island in the fall.

Q: What makes the Great Turtle Half Marathon and 5.7 Mile Run / Walk weekend on Mackinac Island different from the other races?

A: So many things make the Great Turtle Weekend different than other race weekends. First, it’s Mackinac Island. The course is much different than other races we go to. While it considered a trail run, as some of the run is through the island, in the middle of the woods, other parts are on the paved roads of Mackinac Island. The course offers runners the opportunity to take in the beauty and serenity of the island.

One of the other things that makes the Great Turtle Half Marathon stand out is the medal. Runners receive one of the coolest looking medals, more of a keepsake…a turtle that opens with the shape of the course in the middle. Participants can also have the media engraved.

Q: What’s changed over the years?

Photo courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism

Photo courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism

A: Over the years we’ve watched the Great Turtle Half Marathon weekend grow more than we ever imagined. What started out as a co-op with Mission Point Resort, a small group where everyone enjoyed a post-race meal has grown into a weekend of nearly 3,000 runners. People come in from around the country to see and enjoy a run on this piece of heaven we know as Mackinac Island.

Q: What do you look forward to on Mackinac Island?

It’s the last hurrah of the tourist season on the island so many businesses are having sales. It’s also Halloween weekend so there are plenty of fun things for kids and families to do. The race weekend has become a tradition in that runners bring costumes and Halloween candy, and families enjoy trick-or-treating.

There’s still time to register for the 2014 Great Turtle Half Marathon and 5.7 Run/Walk. Visit the website for details!