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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore) has long been a popular destination for its natural resources, rich cultural history, and daytime recreational activities. It also offers visitors an extraordinary opportunity once the sun has set. Located far from sources of urban light pollution, the National Lakeshore allows for an unhindered view of the night sky and offers opportunities for visitors to gaze at the visible universe as it was witnessed in times long past. In 2017, the National Lakeshore will be hosting a series of monthly astronomy programs that run from April through October. Park rangers and members of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society (GTAS) will help you unravel some of the mysteries of the night sky as well as discover more about the daytime sky. The next Star Party will be held on Saturday, May 13, 9:00-11:00 p.m., and will be located at the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Stop #3.
The scenic overlook at Stop #3 provides outstanding views of the northern and western horizons, both in the daytime and at night. Examine the moon early, and then observe Jupiter and the starry skies once the moon sets. Please park at Picnic Mountain; the next right after Stop #2. In the event of a large turnout, park rangers will guide overflow parking to the Cottonwood Trailhead and along the right shoulder of the road. The event will be cancelled for inclement weather or if the stars are not visible due to cloudy weather conditions. The decision to cancel will be made two hours in advance of the event; please call 231-326-4700, ext. 5005, for a voicemail message with the decision.
Starry night skies and natural darkness are important components of the special places the National Park Service protects. National parks enclose some of the last remaining harbors of darkness in America, and provide an excellent opportunity to experience this endangered resource firsthand. These events are also the perfect occasion to “Find Your Park” in the stars, and share your adventures at FindYourPark.com.
All programs offered by the National Lakeshore are free. Participants need only purchase the Park Entrance Pass or have an Annual Pass displayed in their vehicle to join in the fun. Passes may be purchased at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire and cost $15 per vehicle for seven days. Visitors are encouraged to bring a flashlight for the walk back to their cars and should bring bug spray if desired. Visitors may also want to bring binoculars, beach chairs, blankets, and water.
For a listing of other programs, check the park’s event calendar at https://www.nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/calendar.htm. For more information about the GTAS, go to http://www.gtastro.org/.