Dark Sky Coast

Photo album of the Governor's visit

Click here to be taken to a photo gallery of Gov. Snyder's visit in August to Petoskey.

It's official: Gov. Snyder signs Dark Sky Coast designation into law

June 21, 2012

Revised July 6, 2012

MACKINAW CITY -- It has been just over a year since Emmet County’s Headlands park was recognized as an International Dark Sky Park, but the designation is already leading to bigger things.

The Michigan House and Senate have both approved HB 5414, the “Dark Sky Coast” bill, protecting the night sky above another 21,000 contiguous acres of state forest land in Emmet County’s northwestern tip, near the Headlands International Dark Sky Park. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill into law the first week of July; it is now P.A. 251.

The bill was sponsored by 107th District Rep. Frank Foster, R-Petoskey, and endorsed by the Emmet County Board of Commissioners and the boards of the affected townships – Wawatam, Bliss and Cross Village.

The bill does not place any requirements on land owners; it simply requires that any lighting on the included public lands be directed downward so as not to create glare which interferes with the view of the night sky. While the legislative action will not require homeowners or businesses to change their lighting practices, it is intended to encourage more residents and visitors to protect the night sky as a resource that sets Emmet County apart, according to Lyn Johnson, Emmet County Controller.

“The protection of the dark sky and the cultural resources and natural amenities are extremely important to the county,” said Johnson. “Further, the impact this will have on bringing visitors into the community, thereby spurring economic growth, and the added educational value for our residents and visitors are priceless benefits. The uniqueness of Emmet County and the high standards we set separate us from larger, more developed urban areas where people can no longer see the stars.”

House Bill 5414 encompasses the state land around the Headlands and the county’s Cecil Bay park. It adds Wilderness State Park and certain state forestland within Bliss, Cross Village and Wawatam townships to a law that originally designated a park in Lenawee County for dark sky status in 1993. State rules for a dark sky preserve (which is different than a Dark Sky Park) require that wherever practical, lighting be on motion sensor fixtures and directed downward or fully shielded.

“Tourism experiences of all types are important for Michigan and our region, including enjoyment of a pure, undiluted night sky,” said Foster, who is also chairman of the House Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee. “Emmet County worked hard to have the Headlands recognized as just the sixth Dark Sky Park in the nation and ninth in the world. Adding the state property to the designation will increase our international standing and the draw for visitors.”

The 600-acre Headlands became the sixth International Dark Sky Park to be recognized in the United States and the 9th in the world by the Arizona-based International Dark-sky Association in May 2011.

Since then, thousands of visitors have learned about the park and participated in free monthly programs (which will be expanded beginning this summer; more details at www.emmetcounty.org). In June, more than 750 people turned out to witness the once-in-a-lifetime Transit of Venus from the Headlands, for example.

Because of such tremendous public interest in the dark sky park, and in particular the programs of celestial lore and astronomical wonder hosted by the Dark Sky Park Program Director Mary Stewart Adams, the idea of creating a Dark Sky Coast took off.

“Recognizing northern Emmet County as Michigan’s Dark Sky Coast opens up a wonderful new way for people to enjoy the natural world,” said Tom Bailey, executive director of the Little Traverse Conservancy in Harbor Springs and member of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on State Parks and Outdoor Recreation. “Our area is known for the beauty of its lakes, forests, and fields, but scenic beauty doesn’t end there. The night sky is a vast wilderness that everyone can enjoy when there is no stray light to interfere with the view.”

Bailey and Adams were instrumental in working with Foster on the Dark Sky Coast legislation. Creation of the Dark Sky Coast presents another avenue for protecting natural resources, which has been a life-long commitment for Bailey. “The beauty of the constellations, the Milky Way, the planets, moon and the occasional display of Northern Lights are there to enjoy, and all you need to bring is your eyes. If you like to use a telescope to explore in depth, as the old saying goes, the sky’s the limit!” he noted.

He added that the responsiveness of Foster and Sen. Howard Walker in creating the Dark Sky Coast legislation and their work shepherding it through the legislature will mean more great opportunities for Northern Michigan.

“We thank Representative Frank Foster and Senator Howard Walker for their support of official recognition for the Dark Sky Coast. And we’re grateful to the Department of Natural Resources for their support, as well, in expanding opportunities for recreation, education, and tourism in the area,” Bailey said.

Tourism is one area in particular certain to see a boost from increased attention and protection of the night sky over Emmet County. Already, the Dark Sky Park at the Headlands has been featured in dozens of state and national publications and across various media outlets over the last year. That has resulted in a tangible uptick in tourism related to those visiting the area for pristine night-sky viewing.

“The Dark Sky Coast project is exciting for Emmet County for many reasons,” said James E. Tamlyn, Emmet County Board of Commissioners chairman. “Seeing a family come up here with their children and the amazement on the kids’ faces at seeing the Milky Way for perhaps the first time -- that’s what inspires us to keep going.

“The Board of Commissioners has been talking about eco-tourism and protecting these precious Emmet County resources because of what they mean to our county and to our region. To have the Dark Sky Park and now the Dark Sky Coast, it will be a tremendous addition to our assets.”

During hearings on the measure, held in Lansing by Foster’s natural resources committee, support for the measure was apparent. After approval from the state House, the bill was moved to the Senate for consideration and it was passed with support from Sen. Walker. Along the way, two other areas in Lower Peninsula State Parks were added to the measure.

“The State of Michigan has once again secured its place as a leader in protecting the vast resource of the night sky with passage of the House Bill 5414, the ‘Dark Sky’ bill that protects more than 20,000 acres of state land from the disturbing effects of light pollution and light trespass,” said Dark Sky Park Program Director Adams. “The decision by the State to follow the tremendous success of Emmet County's dark skies initiative allows us the opportunity to have a leadership role in advocating, educating and celebrating the night sky and its stories.

“There are few experiences more restorative and awe-inspiring than being out under an unpolluted, star-filled dome of the night. History attests to the fact that such encounters have influenced some of our greatest poetry and literature, our greatest architectural achievements, and even our greatest scientific and mathematic research and discovery. One could argue that protecting the night sky and our access to dark wilderness areas is the best kind of educational supplement around.”

Gov. Snyder to sign legislation during visit to Petoskey on Aug. 9, 2012

Gov. Rick Snyder will visit Petoskey on Thursday, Aug. 9, to celebrate a ceremonial signing of Public Act 251, known locally as the “Dark Sky Coast” bill, which protects the night sky above nearly 21,000 contiguous acres of land in Northwest Emmet County.

The signing ceremony will take place at North Central Michigan College beginning at 4:15 p.m.  It will be held in front of the new Jack and Dorothy Harris Health Education and Science Center, which the Governor will tour privately after the ceremony.

The Dark Sky legislation was known as House Bill 5414 before being signed into law by Snyder on July 2, 2012. The bill was originally introduced by 107th District State Rep. Frank Foster, R-Petoskey, who serves as the chairman of the House Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee. It builds upon the tremendous public interest following designation of the Headlands as an International Dark Sky Park in May 2011. The Headlands, located in northwest Emmet County, is the seventh International Dark Sky Park in the United States and just the 10th in the world.

“Tourism experiences of all types are important for Michigan and our region, including enjoyment of a pure, undiluted night sky,” Foster said, upon introducing the legislation. Foster will join the Governor for Thursday’s ceremony, along with Emmet County Commissioners and local dark-sky advocates; the public is invited to attend the signing ceremony.

Public Act 251 does not place any requirements on land owners; it simply requires that any lighting on the included public lands be directed downward so as not to interfere with the view of the night sky. While the legislative action will not require homeowners or businesses to change their lighting practices, it is intended to encourage more residents and visitors to protect the night sky as a resource that sets Emmet County apart, according to Lyn Johnson, Emmet County Controller.

Mary Stewart Adams, the county’s Dark Sky Park Program Director, said she is thrilled the Governor is supporting efforts to protect the night sky. “A deep, dark night is a vanishing resource for inspiration and creative genius that is largely overlooked in the developed world,” Adams said. “The State of Michigan can be proud of its leadership role in recognizing the necessity of protecting such a resource.”

Along with covering nearly 21,000 acres of state land in Emmet County, PA 251 also encompasses several hundred acres of state land in southern Michigan.