Seeking Dark Sky designation for parks

Friends groups for two state parks and a state recreation area are working to get state Dark Sky Preserve designation for the parks.

The groups are working together to seek the designation for Negwegon and Thompson’s Harbor state parks, and Rockport State Recreation Area, Negwegon and Rockport Supervisor Eric Ostrander said. The designation would mean any lighting installed within the parks would have to meet certain standards to ensure it doesn’t send too much light upward. New lighting only could be installed if it were necessary for safety, security or the reasonable use of the parks, and the restriction would only apply to lighting on park lands.

“People like to be able to go out and see the stars and learn about some of the cultural and natural history that’s part of the night sky” he said. “We and the friends groups want to protect these areas where you have a good clear view of the night sky.”

Such a designation would have the biggest impact at Rockport, since it’s set for more development in the future, Ostrander said. Negwegon and Thompson’s Harbor will remain undeveloped; Friends of Negwegon President Sue Keller recently told Alcona County commissioners there’s no electricity at the park, located north of Black River.

Keller has researched the concept and has been advocating the designation for Negwegon State Park for some time. Two-thirds of U.S. residents live where they can’t see the Milky Way, and all the light that’s drowning out the stars amounts to $1.74 billion in wasted electricity annually, she said. That’s based on a 10 cents per kilowatt-hour average.

“We view the night sky as a natural resource just as the lake is, and the forest and plants and animals, and it’s often an ignored natural resource, to be protected and enjoyed,” she said.

With Alcona County’s sparse population and large tracts of state and federal land, there are regional assets to be tapped, Keller said.

Rockport and Thompson’s Harbor also would be ideal locations for night sky viewing, so all three friends groups are working together with help from the Negwegon, Rockport and Thompson’s Harbor Advisory Committee, Ostrander said.

Wilderness State Park, part of Port Crescent State Park and state lands around Lake Hudson are Dark Sky Preserves. That’s according to the House Fiscal Agency’s analysis of a 2012 bill to add Wilderness and Port Crescent. The state’s Dark Sky Preserve designation was created in 1993, and Lake Hudson’s preserve drew in astronomers and stargazers from around the world. These two parks were added in an effort to duplicate that success.

Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan is supporting the idea, Executive Director Chris Witulski said. The museum is home to the only planetarium within 100 miles, and last year hosted a meeting between the friends groups and Headlands Dark Sky Park Director Mary Stewart Adams. That park has an International Dark Sky Park designation, which is different. Planetarium Director John Heath also had a stargazing party at Rockport that year.

Other partner organizations include the Alpena Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Ostrander said.

To get the designation, lawmakers would need to amend state law that designates the parks, Keller said. She’s contacted state Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle and state Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, and both told her they support the idea.

Friends groups are gathering letters of support for the designations, and Sanborn and Alcona township boards have already voted theirs, Keller said.

Once these letters are gathered, they’ll be sent to the Department of Natural Resources’ legislative liaison, Ostrander said.

Mike Grohowski, president of Friends of Thompson’s Harbor, and Krakow Township supervisor, expects the township board will vote on a letter of support on May 13.

“It’s a neat thing, and it’s another economic opportunity for Northeast Michigan,” he said. “I think any time we can grab onto any kind of stimulus or whatever that’s going to come our way, I think we need to take advantage of it.”

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.