Dark Sky Discovery Trail

Take a quick survey about your Trail experience!

Emmet County staff is continually looking for ways to improve the park experience at the Headlands. Please take a couple minutes to complete the fillable survey accessible by clicking on the PDF below. Many thanks to you for helping us create a most memorable International Dark Sky Park experience for all of our visitors!


Dark Sky Discovery Trail fillable survey



See and hear online

A video and photos of the Discovery Trail, plus the audio components, are available online.

Click here to watch a narrated video tour of the Discovery Trail, featuring Dark Sky Park Program Director Mary Stewart Adams.

Click here to see photos of each Discovery Station.

Click here to access mp3 audio files that accompany each station.

Dark Sky Discovery Trail is newest addition at the Headlands

Mercury Discovery Station

The newest addition to the cultural interpretation of the dark sky at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park officially opened to the public on Sunday, Nov.  11, 2012.

The Dark Sky Discovery Trail is a 1-mile long paved trail from the Headlands entrance to the designated Dark Sky Viewing Area. It 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 Headlands, an Emmet County park located 2 miles west of downtown Mackinaw City, is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week at no charge. The signs are not lighted so plan accordingly.

Each Discovery Station features a cultural docent or representational artwork; an interpretive display board with text about each planet; and a sign indicating how visitors can access audio components (either via dialing a phone number with your cell phone or using the QR code). The audio is different than the written board text.

The opening sign sets the stage for what visitors will experience when they arrive at the Headlands to participate in the Discovery Trail: “The dark wilderness of endless sky has held wonder for humanity as long as there have been sky and man. Along this 1-mile Dark Sky Discovery Trail, visitors will encounter inspiring people and figures – ‘cultural docents’ – and art representations which will explore humanity’s relationship with the cosmos. They will demonstrate how this relationship has impacted the evolution of our culture, from ceremonial and agricultural practices of indigenous tribes to the navigational instruments used by the first Europeans to arrive here.

“Indeed, humanity’s striving to understand its place in the cosmos has motivated the highest achievements in architecture, literature, science and the arts.”

Each Discovery Station represents one of the planets, plus Pluto, Moon and Sun. This is not a science trail, said Mary Stewart Adams, Dark Sky Park Program Director, but a path that leads visitors through cultural understanding and the interconnectedness of people from around the Earth both in ancient times and today.

"Too often we overlook the fact that scientific ideas and facts often emerge from wild imaginations and cultural beliefs," said Mary Stewart Adams, Program Director. "Our intent with this project is to celebrate the impact of these imaginations and beliefs on the on-going process of discovery in our own age, and to consider how the rhythms of the planetary worlds around us were understood by the people who named these celestial bodies. Every culture in history has rendered their understanding of the planetary bodies in art, in architecture, and through moral imaginations that we regard as mythologies. When we approach the planets this way -- through the story of humanity's emerging understanding -- we can more readily accept that our own views will grow and change with time, and that our contemporary views may one day be viewed as the wild mythology of a former time."

The Discovery Trail was made possible in part by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, with support from the Emmet County Board of Commissioners. The board content was provided by experts and scholars in local, indigenous and star lore, including Mary Stewart Adams; Eric Hemenway of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians; and Sandy Planisek, a Mackinaw City historian. The boards were designed by Beth Anne Piehl, Emmet County Communication and Web Development Director. A guided video tour of the trail will be available in this portion of the Web site and on the county's YouTube channel in the weeks ahead.


Dark Sky Discovery Trail receives funding

Emmet County awarded $12,500 from the Michigan Humanities Council to develop interpretive trail at the Headlands Dark Sky Park

(May 21, 2012) After reviewing “an astounding 51 applications” – 31 more than the previous grant cycle – the Michigan Humanities Council has announced it will award $350,850 in major grant monies to 30 Michigan nonprofits, including Emmet County.

Emmet County was successful in its application for funding of a Dark Sky Discovery Trail at the Headlands, an International Dark Sky Park 2 miles west of downtown Mackinaw City. The county will receive $12,500 from the MHC to help fund the trail, which will bring star-inspired stories to the thousands of annual Headlands visitors, while encouraging further connection to the dark sky and these culturally significant grounds, according to Mary Stewart Adams, Dark Sky Park Program Director.

“While human beings have looked up in wonder at the night sky from time immemorial, and have built monuments and temples and created great works of art and literature to celebrate the mystery of our relationship to the planets and stars, in contemporary culture the information about this relationship is dominated by scientists using satellites, telescopes and computers,” Adams said. “Our intent is to tell the story using the humanities, from the perspective of the human beings involved in discovery, the mythological figures that have been associated with the night sky, and more. These stories are the fabric of our cultural life and when shared they enhance the sense of place and belonging in both the cosmic order and the community.”

The MHC noted it was a very competitive granting cycle. The grant awards will provide organizations with the funds needed to host cultural programming in their communities through exhibits, lectures, writing programs, festivals and more. Grantees are based in 16 of Michigan’s counties.

“We received an extraordinary number of very exciting, high-quality grant applications this spring and the Michigan Humanities Council has made the very bold decision to fund double the number of grants we usually fund this time of year as a result. This is more than double the amount of grant dollars we awarded in the fall cycle, but with such a large number of great projects on the table, we decided to get the funds out into the communities now when the need is so great,” said Council Board Chair Timothy Chester.

“On behalf of the Council board and staff, I want to congratulate those Michigan schools, communities and nonprofits that are really raising the bar in innovative programming to tell their local stories and elevate Michigan’s rich cultural heritage to a new level,” added Chester.

The Headlands Dark Sky Discovery Trail will include 11 interpretive signs and life-size cut-out figures – cultural “docents” – that will allow the visitor to be engaged intellectually and imaginatively in the experience. Each Discovery Station will represent one of the planets, plus the sun and moon, and be accompanied by a sign detailing the person or object’s connection to the dark sky and the culture on Earth; a self-guided cell phone tour stop; and a specialized QR code for smart phone users to instantly scan and connect with the audio.

The Discovery Stations will lead from the Headlands main entrance and to the designated Dark Sky Viewing Area at the Lake Michigan shoreline, about a 1 mile walk.

"We are extremely grateful to the Michigan Humanities Council for this generous award, which will really help us as we start looking for ways to make the Dark Sky experience at the Headlands even more enriching for our visitors," said Beth Anne Piehl, Emmet County Communications and Web Development Director and project co-director. "We have a really exciting project planned with the Discovery Trail."

Emmet County Parks and Recreation Director Laurie Gaetano said the amount of visitors to the Headlands is expected to keep increasing. The park continues to be featured in major state and national media, and the number of inquiries about the Headlands and its programs is surpassing any expectations the county had initially, she added.

“This is a great first step in our overall plan for the property,” said Gaetano, project co-director. “First and foremost, we plan to keep the Headlands in its natural state, and any additions to the park will keep that focus at the forefront. We have a tremendous opportunity with the Headlands as an International Dark Sky Park, and we’re excited about moving forward, thanks to the Michigan Humanities Council.”

Work on the Dark Sky Discovery Trail will begin immediately.

Each month, Emmet County offers free monthly programs at the Headlands, with program details also available on the Web site. Plus, a biweekly video email blasts features Adams providing night-sky viewing tips, celestial highlights, program information and more. To register for the email blasts, contact Piehl at bpiehl@emmetcounty.org.

About the Michigan Humanities Council
The Michigan Humanities Council is a private, nonprofit organization created to foster a better understanding of each other and our state through local cultural, historical and literary experiences for all. The Council was founded in 1974 and is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and individual donors. For more information on future programs, upcoming grant opportunities or how you can support these efforts, please visit www.michiganhumanities.org or call (517) 372-7770.