Cass County park named a great place to view night sky

CASS COUNTY, Mich. (WNDU) - A lot of public parks close at night, but one is bound and determined to make a nocturnal name for itself.

For 11 years running, Dr. T.K. Lawless Park has hosted the annual Star Party of the Michiana Astronomical Society.

Now, the local secret is out and the park has achieved international recognition.

“We are an International Dark Sky Park. We are one of only two parks in the state of Michigan,” Cass County Park Board Member Robert Parrish said. “It’s a great place for people to come out and look at the stars. It’s been estimated that almost 60% of the U.S. population has never seen the Milky Way before because of light pollution.”

The park had to address its own pollution problems to earn the title.

That meant spending $2,000 for new parking lot light fixtures that direct light in a downward direction exclusively — not sideways or up. The new fixtures have bulbs of 3,000 Kelvins or less.

Otherwise, the park is far enough away from the city lights of civilization to qualify as one of the best places on Earth to view space.

“When people see the rings of Saturn for the first time, they go, 'Wow!'” Parrish said. “They read about it or might see magazines or pictures, but in that live moment when you actually see it, there's that connection that things are out there that are bigger than us.”

It is perhaps amazing what you can see in the dark, and it’ll be interesting to see what future changes at the park will better accommodate stargazers.

"Eventually, some time in the future we would like to have our own little observatory here," Parrish said.

“We will have organized camping out here, hopefully sooner rather than later, and it'll just be something else for families to do,” parks director Scott Wyman added. "We've always said we're stewards of the land; now we're much more, we're stewards of the sky.”

A ceremony to celebrate the Dark Sky Park designation will be held at Dr. Lawless Park during the annual Star Party set for April 24-26, 2020.

The other Dark Sky designated park in Michigan is at the tip of the mill, 2 miles from the Mackinac Bridge in Emmet County. Stargazing there has become a major tourist attraction, drawing an estimated 60,000 guests per year.

The Headlands Dark Sky Park opened in 2011.