Page 90 - Visitors Guide 18
P. 90

By Jennie Berkson
Special to the Enterprise
After a day of beaching, biking or hiking, hitting wineries or sampling restaurants, what’s there left to do in Leelanau County?
Try looking up.
“Not very many people live in places that have night skies like we have at the park,” said Lisa Griebel, park ranger for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. “This is one of the few remaining dark places in the Midwest.”
The national park offers monthly stargazing parties beginning in April and
running through October in conjunction with the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society.
“We have kids’ activities and rangers with different stations,” explained Griebel.
The astronomical society brings a range of telescopes including a popular 25-inch model, but many amateur astronomers bring their own, said Bob Moler, founding member of the society and its newsletter editor.
“Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is great for viewing the night sky because it’s one of the darkest places in the lower peninsula,” said Moler. “People drive up here from Detroit just to attend the star parties. There are objects in the sky you can’t easily see anywhere else nearby.”
Even while the sun is above the horizon, the sky offers a source of learning and viewing.
“In the afternoons we have opportunities for solar viewing,” said Griebel. “The telescopes that the Astronomical Society brings have special  lters to
help us learn more about the sun. These programs have been really successful as well.”
Night-sky gazing along the 45th parallel usually starts around 10 p.m. when planets become visible.
Viewers cast a steady gaze on Saturn with its rings.
“When people see that for the  rst time, they just can’t believe it. It’s one thing to see a picture, but quite another to see it on the other side of a telescope.”
Later on in the evening, deep sky star clusters and the Milky Way grow apparent. Although Moler said no signi cant astronomical events are expected to rival the past years’ solar or lunar eclipses, the Perseid meteor shower is always a crowd favorite.
It should be a good year
as the meteor shower will be visible when the moon isn’t full.
Griebel said star gazing in the park continues to grow.
“We started the parties
off to celebrate on our 40th anniversary and they’ve
really grown from just a few attendees,” she said. “Now more than a thousand people come. We have had to be a bit more strategic. The parties aren’t programs anymore, they are really events. People really enjoy feeling this vibe of all the people sharing this experience at the same time.”
Efforts are underway to continue and preserve the park’s nighttime character. Julie Christian, chief of natural resources, has been working with Jerry Dobek
of Northwestern Michigan College to establish the Lakeshore as a Dark Sky Place through the International Dark-
Marilyn Harbin, Christina Harbin and Eliza Handley enjoy the telescopes provided by the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society during Astronomy Fest at the Dune Climb.
Not here when a dark sky party is scheduled? Make your own. According to
the Lakeshore website, the park is home to many prime stargazing locations. Here are a handful in Leelanau County:
• Any beach that stretch
along the Lake Michigan shoreline
• Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, speci cally at the No. 3 stop
• Parking lot of the Dune Climb
• Thoreson Farm in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District
Sky Association. According to its website,
the National Park Service recognizes a naturally dark night sky as more than a scenic canvas; it is part of a complex ecosystem that supports natural and cultural resources.
“Getting recognition has
a lot of natural resources implications including
bird migration and animal behavior,” said Christian. “Not only does this help protect our different species even better but it also provides a unique recreation activity within our boundaries.”
There are only two other dark sky parks in the Midwest. One is found in Emmet County.
“One of the big steps is doing a lighting inventory, which we’ve completed,” said Christian. “Now we need to organize the data and develop a lightscape management plan.”
It’s a matter of having ‘just enough’ lighting. In fact, having intense lights at night can actually be less safe because of shadows.
“And there’s an extra bonus — we’ll also use less energy,” Christian said.
Leelanau Visitors Guide 2018

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