Looking for more stars? Here are the five international dark sky places closest to Wisconsin

·4 min read

Sure, there are plenty of places in Wisconsin where the sky gets dark enough — unimpeded by city lights — to see it awash with stars.

But perhaps you're looking for a stargazing spot that's internationally recognized.

The International Dark Sky Association began its dark sky places program in 2001 to recognize "excellent stewardship of the night sky." As of earlier this year, there were just 195 of them across the world, ranging from some of the most remote, darkest places around the globe to urban areas whose city planning specifically promotes "an authentic nighttime experience."

Each place must have educational programming to teach visitors about the night sky and how to reduce light pollution. So you're not just seeing the stars, you're getting a science lesson, too.

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Wisconsin has just one park currently recognized by the association: Newport State Park at the tip of Door County, which has held the designation for five years.

Three properties in western Wisconsin — the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Wildcat Mountain State Park and Tunnelville Cliffs State Natural Area — are planning to apply for the designation this year.

If you've already hit both areas, you don't have to travel too much farther outside the state to find more. Here are five more dark sky places close to Wisconsin.

Headlands County Park, Michigan

Located near downtown Mackinaw City, Headlands was one of the first 10 international dark sky parks in the world, earning recognition in 2011.

The park is open 24 hours a day for stargazing, according to its website, but in the summer months, staff put telescopes out on a viewing platform for people who want a closer look.

Free events about the birth and death of stars, why meteor showers occur and how to limit light pollution are on the calendar this summer.

Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, Michigan

If you want to visit the newest of the nearly 200 international dark sky places around the world, all you need to do is look U.P. — to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, that is.

Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, a historic wilderness resort near Copper Harbor, received the designation from the International Dark Sky Association June 21. It's surrounded on three sides by Lake Superior and encompasses thousands of acres of wilderness, making the skies there plenty dark.

Lodging guests can borrow telescopes, and stargazing events include photography workshops and new moon parties.

Dr. T.K. Lawless County Park, Michigan

Less than 30 minutes north of the state's border with Indiana is Dr. T.K. Lawless County Park, Michigan's third park recognized for its dark skies.

The 820-acre nature park earned its designation in 2020. They host meteor shower viewings and other scheduled viewings as part of the park's educational programming.

There is a $2 vehicle entry fee at the park.

Palos Preserves, Illinois

If you're surprised that the skies near Chicago make this list, you're probably not alone.

Palos Preserves, part of one of the nation's oldest and largest conservation districts, is located in southwest Cook County and was designated as an Urban Night Sky Place in 2021. The association bestows that title upon places that work to promote natural darkness despite being near urban environments with lots of artificial light (Palos Preserves is one of just five in the world).

A study submitted along with the application for the designation found that the area emitted nearly 1,000 times less light than downtown Chicago, and viewers could see four times as many stars.

Middle Fork River Forest Preserve, Illinois

The Middle Fork River Forest Preserve, about 40 minutes from Champaign, was designated as Illinois' first international dark sky park in 2018.

In 2007, members of the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society pushed for changes to street lighting in Champaign to better protect night skies. They also launched stargazing programs at the preserve that year.

A few years before becoming recognized, the government agency that oversees the preserve spent over $20,000 to bring lighting at the preserve in line with International Dark Sky Association recommendations, according to the news release announcing its designation.

You can find star charts and what to look for in the sky during each season on the preserve's website.

Madeline Heim is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about environmental challenges in the Mississippi River watershed and across Wisconsin. Contact her at 920-996-7266 or mheim@gannett.com.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Five international dark sky places closest to Wisconsin