Cook County celebrates its lack of light pollution at first-ever Dark Sky Festival

Northern lights seen over Grand Marais. (Photo courtesy Visit Cook County)
Northern lights seen over Grand Marais. (Photo courtesy Visit Cook County)

The weekend of Dec. 14-15, Grand Marais will host an inaugural Dark Sky Festival with a series of events around the North Shore town. The celebration is intended to show off the astronomical wonders of winter nights: bright stars, the aurora borealis, and even a meteor shower.

Cook County is considered one of the darkest areas in the lower United States. People in the region have been exploring ways to protect and promote that darkness as an asset. Last year, the county launched an advertising campaign focused on its dark skies and created driving routes to help visitors experience the rare sight of a starry sky.

On Friday, Dec. 14, Voyageur Brewing Company will host a traveling planetarium from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. There will be telescopes and experts available outside to help view the Geminid Meteor Shower, and activities inside the inflatable dome to learn more about space.

That same night, Gunflint Tavern and Brew Pub will release a special, limited edition beer called Dark Sky Stout.

Saturday evening, two noted night-sky photographers will give presentations at North House Folk School. Bryan Hansel and Travis Novitsky pledge a “friendly duel of nightscape images.” Following that, Jim Rock and Joel Halvorson, both of the UMD astronomy department, will present on the topic of the stars and indigenous people. There will then be a bonfire and more star-viewing at North House, weather permitting.

Halvorson says bright starry skies were common until recently, and were an important part of human culture.

“We’re only separated by that experience by a few generations,” he told the Star Tribune. “It doesn’t matter what portion of the planet your family hails from. We all have that in common.”

The evening will conclude with more planetarium time at Voyageur Brewing Co., and a screening of The Twilight Zone film at Wunderbar.

Eventually, the community may seek to be the first place in Minnesota designated by the International Dark-Sky Association.

“By arranging for good outdoor lighting policies, rehabilitating poor-quality outdoor lighting installations, and reaching out to educate neighbors and visitors on the importance of dark skies, Dark Sky Places set a positive example for their communities and countries,” the organization says.

Grand Marais formed a committee a year ago to study the possibility of joining 11 other communities that have been designated as Dark Sky Communities in the United States.

Full details about the Dec. 14-15 Dark Sky Festival in Grand Marais are available here.

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