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Headlands International Dark Sky Park Protects Night Skies and the Human Imagination

Headlands International Dark Sky Park has been recognized with the 2017 International Dark Sky Place of the Year Award.

Like all Dark Sky Places designated by the International Dark-Sky Association,  Headlands International Dark Sky Park offers visitors a protected nighttime wilderness to experience first-hand the beauty and inspiration found in the natural nightscape. But Headlands really shines in its efforts to provide programs that put visitors in touch with our heritage of human inspiration cast by the stars. Located near the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula, on the shore of Lake Michigan, Headlands International Dark Sky Park safeguards the human imagination by preserving access to both the night sky and the stories it holds.

“Since the most ancient ages of humanity the highest achievements in art, literature, architecture, science, poetry, and agriculture have been and continue to be inspired by our human desire to understand our place in the celestial environment,” said Mary Stewart Adams, Director at Headlands International Dark Sky Park. Adams, a Star Lore Historian, easily rattles off examples. “As far back as the Newgrange Passage in Ireland to the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt, Britain’s Stonehenge, Mexico’s Chizen Itza, the Chartres Cathedral in France, to the Very Large Telescope Array in Chile, the Hubble Space Telescope, and spacecraft missions to Saturn, Mars, Pluto, and beyond, the motivating force has been the same. Each of these initiatives was designed specifically to align with the stars in order to reveal to humanity a clue about its greatest mystery: the mystery of the Self.”

While most astronomy programs are rooted in the study of celestial objects from our current cultural and scientific perspectives, Adams thoughtfully designs programs at Headlands International Dark Sky Park to celebrate the variety of ways societies have used the night sky to express their understanding of humanity through the ages. “You can uncover the stars in anything,” says Adams.

As an example, she often asks visitors to consider the role of the stars in celebrating the sacred births of world religions. Stories of the night sky in Buddhism, Christianity, and the native Odawa people of Northern Michigan illustrate how pervasive the stars have been in every age of humanity. Adams explains that “for Buddhists it is the Taurus Full Moon that inaugurates the celebration of birth and enlightenment of the Buddha. For the Ancient Greeks, the story of Perseus’ birth from a shower of golden stars comes during the season of waning daylight as if to bring strength and courage for slaying monsters.”

“Knowing the night sky through every possible expression of human understanding can create a greater sense of harmony,” she said. “The programs and events at Headlands celebrate how we create art, build structures, till the soil, and celebrate birth, death and discovery. The more varied the expression we can find of humanity’s understanding of these great mysteries, the better. And it is in this way we arrive at the greatest benefit that derives from knowing the night sky and its stories – an appreciation of cultural diversity.”

Park visitor Michele Borna-Stier describes it as “an incredibly profound experience. I’m so glad I went.”

While visitors consider the many ways that the canopy above connects us to our heritage, Adams also encourages us to think deeply about our own social identity. After all, she says, “Our current understanding will be the mythology of the next generations.” How will we choose to be remembered?