Stargazing at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is an activity that can be enjoyed by anyone. The Keweenaw Dark Sky Park was designated as Michigan’s third International Dark Sky Park on June 21, 2022, with the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge (KML) being the headquarters for the dark sky park. Since then the team at the KML has been working to create great stargazing experiences.
We view stargazing as a way to get in touch with nature. The Earth, our natural world, is part of our solar system which is a small part of the Milky Way Galaxy which is even a smaller part of the known universe. Looking up and seeing a clear night sky opens the door to our universe. The sheer beauty is one aspect of what draws us to stargazing and chasing the northern lights, however it goes beyond the visual. Looking at the stars has enlarged our perspective; it helps remind us about how insignificant we are and why we are here on planet Earth. Man’s impact on our planet, and even the night sky, is significant. More than 80 percent of humanity is affected by light pollution from artificial light. Animals and plants on this planet (as well as humans) have genetically adapted to regular day/night/seasonal cycles that have been completely interrupted by the glow created by artificial lights. One of the goals of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge in becoming a dark sky park is to foster dark skies across the Keweenaw. We want to provide experiences and educational opportunities so individuals can learn about the impact of artificial light on the natural world. Our hope is that you leave the Lodge more knowledgeable than when you came.
Stargazing is a year round activity at the Lodge. The property is open at night to guests 365 nights of the year. Providing educational materials and information regarding the night sky is a year round endeavor. For lodging guests, telescopes are available to borrow as part of the telescoping lending program. We use a bulletin board inside the lodge to post informational posters about the night sky. Inside the Outdoor Activity Center (OAC) the Astro Board is updated each week to inform guests of celestial happenings in the night sky.
In this post, we review some of the night sky activities and celestial events that happened in 2023.
- Guided a Moonlit Snowshoe Hike on January 7th: The purpose of our moonlit snowshoe hikes is to provide a night time adventure, introduce them to the Dark Sky Park, and provide an educational experience about the Lodge and property.
- Hosted a Night Sky Photo Workshop on January 28th
- Guided a Moonlit Snowshoe Hike on February 4th. This was part of our annual Snowshoe Hare event
- Northern Lights – A G3 solar storm takes place on February 26th. A strong solar storm hit the Keweenaw
- Hosted a Northern Lights Photo Workshop on February 18th
- Installed the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park at the main entrance of KML, on US Hwy 41: We were able to put up an entrance sign for the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park. We removed an outdated KML sign and created a new wooden sign displaying the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park and the International Dark Sky Association’s logos. [ Note: the International Dark Sky Association has changed its name to Dark Sky International ]
- Hosted the Upper Peninsula Dark Sky Festival: The team wanted to create an educational event that was unique to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan focused on the night sky. We partnered with Visit Keweenaw to launch a dark sky festival that will take place annually. Speakers came from across the region to share their expertise on the northern lights, photographing the night sky, and astronomy.
- Started the Lights Out! Program: Installed light switches for the 28 dark sky compliant street lights that are on the property as part of our lighting improvement, and which is inline with our light management plan. Having light switches for each street light allows us to completely shut off the lights for a program we call Lights Out!. We originally started the Lights Out! program for three days a month around the new moon, and later in the year we switched this to seven days a month.
- Installed a Dark Sky Viewing Area Map in the parking lot
- Hosted a Night Sky Photo Workshop on May 20th
- First Northern Lights captured on the All-Sky Web Camera on May 19th. Team member Martin Mueller was able to get the All-sky Camera to capture the Northern Lights for the first time! This special project had gone through multiple tests for the last few years, and it was wonderful to see the Northern Lights captured on the camera.
- Designed new golf course scorecard that incorporates the dark sky park and the night sky activities — Play golf during the day, stargaze at night. Implemented a policy that golfers had to be off the golf course by 7pm to allow for people to walk the golf course and scout stargazing locations.
- Hosted a Night Sky Photo Workshop on June 18th
- Started working with APT Solar Solutions — 3D Solar Lighting Fixture Pilot: The Lodge became part of a test project that Mojtaba Akhavan-Tafti of Adaptable Powerful Transformative (APT) Solar Solutions started. APT is partially funded by a grant from the MDEC (Michigan Economic Development Corporation) MEDC’s which works with high-tech startups in Michigan. We agreed to test 10 of the newly developed solar lights to see how they perform in the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park.
- Worked with National Geographic on an article about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park
- Grant awarded to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge to improve our night sky lighting. The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge was awarded an $8,000 grant to install a wireless system to control our street lights remotely. This grant program was offered by the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform to purchase and install Synapse TL7-B2 wireless modules for the 28 street lights on the property. These modules allow the Lodge team the ability to easily control the streetlights for better night sky viewing.
- Hosted a Night Sky Photo Workshop on July 16th
- Construction of the Dark Sky Walking Path to Hole 4 Fairway: The team worked on leveling a path to Hole 4 of the golf course. This is one of a few paths that we call a Dark Sky Walking Path that guide people to some of the darker places in the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park.
- Aurora August 4 – caught on All Sky Camera
- Night Sky Photo Workshop on August 18th
- Hosted a Perseid Meteor Shower Party on August 12th
- Purchased a Celestron First Scope Telescope. This is a Dobsonian style scope that needs to be set on a table.
- Updated the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park Map
- Northern Lights Photo Workshop on September 17th
- An entrance poster created to notify guests when there is a possibility of Northern Lights that night
- Northern Lights – a G2 level solar storm is visible across the Keweenaw – September 18th – 19th: 10:00pm – 5:00am
- Created an Informational Poster – Using Red Lights in Dark Sky Parks
- Hosted a Northern Lights Photo Workshop on October 15th
- Installed light posts and signage for the Dark Sky Walking path to hole 7. The APT Solar Solutions — 3D Solar lighting fixtures were attached to the top of the posts.
- Started installing the Wifi Modules on street lights. The wireless control system allows us to control the street lights remotely, which helps with improving the guest experience for dark skies.
- Hosted a Night Sky Photo Workshop on November 11th
- Team member John Mueller led a light management workshop for a third year in a row on November 10th. This time we incorporated the workshop into a seminar with Visit Keweenaw as part of their Sustainable Tourism Seminar Series. John Barentine, who is the Executive Officer and Principal Consultant at Dark Sky Consulting, LLC, a consultancy offering professional services in the areas of light pollution, joined virtually via Zoom from Tucson, Arizona.
- Started uploading videos from the All-sky Camera to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge’s Youtube account
- Hosted a Northern Lights Photo Workshop on December 9th
- Finished installing light posts and signage for the Dark Sky Walking path to hole 7
- Testing red lights around the property to enhance night sky viewing, and to let guests understand how red lights are better for stargazing. White LED light bulbs were replaced with red LED light bulbs at the entrance of the Lodge building and on the entry pillars at the entrance of the property on US Hwy 41.
2023 proved to be an exciting year for stargazing at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. The team worked together to provide guests many educational and adventure activities based around the night sky. We continued to have dark skies (see the dark sky quality measurement readings – measured monthly in 8 of the 12 months in 7 spots on property for 43 readings, with an average SQM of 21.45) and build out more of the infrastructure of the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park. And we learned something new everyday. One of the Lodge team’s core values is to “be fearless and persistent in learning on a daily basis” and our activities in 2023 mirrored that as it related to the dark skies. To see what others have been saying about the Lodge’s dark sky activities and read more about the dark sky park, check out the press coverage page of the website. There were well over 20 wonderful articles written about the subject in 2023.
The night sky for 2024 is already making headlines. Solar activity is expected to strengthen in 2024, which could activate more frequent displays of the northern lights, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Comet C/2023 A3 might light up our autumn sky and the 2024 total eclipse will cross most of the United States. Our team looks forward to another year of stargazing and providing some fun adventures to help our guests expand their (and our) perspective of the night sky.
Visit Keweenaw’s Video during the 2023 Upper Peninsula Dark Sky Festival about the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park
Chris Guibert: I have a strong passion for all things outdoors and have worked as a tour guide and professional photographer for the last twenty five years. As the Lead of Outdoor Activities at the Mountain Lodge I want make sure you and your family have a great experience while staying and playing. Please feel free to ask me any questions about the trails, regional activities and local secrets.