New "Dark Sky" Park In Southwest Michigan

Feb 3, 2020

The Great Orion Nebula as seen from Lawless Park in Cass County
Credit Robert Parrish

A park in Cass County has won international recognition for having an amazing view of the night sky. Dr. T.K. Lawless Park just became one of only 79 “International Dark-Sky Parks” in the world, and is the second one in Michigan.

It took the Cass County Parks Department two-and-a-half years to complete the application process with the International Dark-Sky Association. Local amateur astronomer Robert Parrish was an essential part of that. The process began about two years ago but the night sky has been on Parrish’s mind since he was a young boy living in Virginia.

“My father spent a lot of years in the Navy and he would relate to me what the stars would look like from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,” Parrish says. “And when I was eight years old, I got a telescope for Christmas. And when you combine that with the space race of the 1980’s, I was hooked.”

Saturn and its rings as seen from Lawless Park in Cass County
Credit Robert Parrish

When his father passed away two years ago, Parrish knew he had to get Lawless Park certified as a "dark skies park" in his honor. The 67-page application required county officials to prove the darkness of the night sky there and include a light management study of the entire park. Parrish jokes that the application was longer than his master’s thesis.

Cass County Parks and Recreation Director Scott Wyman says becoming an official dark sky location opens doors for the park.

“I like to say that we’re not only stewards of the land and the water, but now we are stewards of the sky as well,” Wyman says.

With the dark skies recognition comes some changes for Lawless Park. In the short-term, they include a new website and longer park hours. Wyman says longer-term goals include a nature center, an observatory, and more interactive programs.

Parrish says he hopes all of the attention will mean more tourism in Cass County.

“We’re primarily a rural county and I think one of the benefits to having a dark sky park is an uptick in tourism which would be good for area businesses,” Parrish says.

The park will host an official celebration of the dark-sky designation April 24-26. That will coincide with the Michiana Astronomical Society’s annual “Star Party.”

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