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.” 

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!  

A Step-by-Step Guide to Experiencing ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids

ArtPrize 2014 kicks off in just a couple of weeks! Grand Rapids will hum with creative energy across three square miles of downtown as artists and visitors from around the world flock to display and view the artwork.

Photo courtesy of Experience GR

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

This world’s largest art competition boasts more than 4500 artists at 515 venues! If you’re heading to the event for the first time or want to see more of what the area has to offer, use this step-by-step guide for experiencing ArtPrize from Experience Grand Rapids.

The sixth year of ArtPrize®, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, returns September 24-October 12. The largest art competition in the country will feature over 1,500 international works of art throughout a three square mile area. What truly sets ArtPrize apart though is the fact your vote helps select one of the winners of the $200,000 grand prize.

To help make your ArtPrize experience the best it can be, we’ve gathered the top five insider tips from experienced ArtPrize visitors both in and outside of Grand Rapids.

Plan Your Day

Stick-to-it-tive-ness Richard Morse 2012

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Visit the ArtPrize website to see all 1,536 entries and start planning your “must see” exhibits. If you have an iPhone, iPad or Android device, download the ArtPrize app to search for specific entries or discover art near you when you come to town. You can also vote through the app-no need to wait in line! If you can swing it, plan more than one day to visit. Grand Rapids is home to many hotels downtown and in outlying areas to meet your overnight needs.

Pick a Parking Spot

Getting to ArtPrize early in the day will give you the most parking options. There are many downtown surface lots to choose from, and the Monroe Center Ramp provides one free hour of parking if you arrive between 8 am and 6 pm. Downtown parking meters are free after 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and most meters are free Saturdays while all are on Sundays. Don’t carry change in your pocket? Create an account to pay for parking via your cell phone.

Bus in

Why drive your car into the city, when you can leave it at participating Meijer stores and ride the bus!? Starting September 17, you can pick up two ArtPrize wristbands for only $5 at participating Meijer stores.  These wristbands give you unlimited rides on all Rapid, DASH and Silver Line buses all 19 days of ArtPrize. Wristbands are also available at the HUB and all Exhibition Centers.

Avoid the Crowds…or Not

Photo by Amanda Baarmen

Photo by Amanda Baarmen

The early bird gets the worm and fewer people on the streets at ArtPrize. Getting to ArtPrize early especially on day one not only helps you beat the crowds, you may even get to meet a few of the artists and speak to them about their work. Another way to manage the crowds is to visit Monday-Thursday when crowds are significantly less. And if you are a member of Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) you can get into GRAM two hours before the public to see nearly 20 ArtPrize entries.

But there is also an upside to additional people; especially when many are in town for the same reason. Being surround by likeminded people enjoying art, Grand Rapids and such a unique event can add energy and excitement to your day. Instead of “fighting the crowds,” soak in the amazing vibe of ArtPrize as you wander around the city and take it all in.

Explore ArtPrize

There are many ways to discover ArtPrize. To take any guesswork out of your day, download a self-guided tour for families and small groups available August 29. Speaking of groups, it’s a good idea to tour in smaller groups of two to four. Having fewer people to keep together makes it easier to get around. Then make plans with a larger group at a restaurant downtown to compare notes!

Another helpful tip is to bring your bicycle. Bikes make it easier to get to outlying venues and simply see more art since you can get from one venue to another that much quicker. You can also park a bit farther out of the city and ride in to avoid any parking jams.

Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and clothes to ensure you can access any venue. It’s also a good idea to bring a sweater or dress in layers. The weather can be a bit unpredictable near the lakeshore!

Time to Eat

Brewery Vivant - Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Brewery Vivant – Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

While you are enjoying the cultural feast, it’s easy to forget to eat physical food. Luckily, with over 100 restaurants in the downtown area, finding a place for a bite and a beverage isn’t too hard.

Since Grand Rapids is Beer City USA, stop into one of the many brewpubs for a pint and a nice little lunch. Or grab something to go and eat outside in front of your favorite outdoor art.

Whichever way you decide to spend your time at ArtPrize, remember there is no one way to visit ArtPrize. Make the experience yours and have a blast.

Have you been to ArtPrize? Tell us your helpful tips and tricks for first-time ArtPrize visitors.