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Written by Cynthia Hector Johnson

The Beaver Island Association took the Beaver Island Dark Sky Project under its wing in 2019. 

As members of the Dark Sky Project looked at applying for an official Dark Sky designation from the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), they discovered that proceeding as a 501(c)(3) non-profit would help both with the application and future funding. When the BIA learned of the interest, we volunteered to help with the project.

BIA president, Kevin Boyle, and BIA vice-president Dick Mulvihill both agreed to join a committee formed to prepare an application to the IDA. After looking into options, the committee applied to become a certified IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary.

The Dark Sky Project Committee selected Cynthia Hector Johnson as official Point of Contact for the IDA process, with William Markey assisting, with the application process and documenting the necessary Sky quality Meter readings. (SQM) A Sanctuary must meet several stringent requirements. One is the measurement of Night Sky Quality, or a measurement of how dark a place is by exact scores. The highest is twenty-two, Beaver Island registers averages between 21 and 21.6 on any given night, according to conditions. Besides meeting these levels for sanctuary status, intentions must be stated as to how to maintain a SQM measurement program to keep sanctuary status.

The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) as seen from Beaver Island.

Beaver Island Wildlife Research Area, managed by the DNR Wildlife Division, Gaylord, MI. met the second, stringent requirement for a sanctuary designation. There are currently only 14 Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world. Beaver Island could be Number 15 in 2021! 

 According to the website,  at Gabriela Mistral (Chile) | International Dark-Sky Association (; these are the guidelines for sanctuary status:  “An IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary is public or private land that has an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, or educational value, its cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.

A sanctuary differs from a Dark Sky Park or Reserve in that it is typically situated in a very remote location with few (if any) nearby threats to the quality of its dark night skies and it does not otherwise meet the requirements for designation as a park or reserve. The typical geographic isolation of Dark Sky Sanctuaries significantly limits opportunities for public outreach, so a sanctuary designation is specifically designed to increase awareness of these fragile sites and promote their long-term conservation.”

Members of the BIA and Dark Sky Project committee waded through the information and designations bi-weekly and weekly through the Covid-19 pandemic via zoom. Brian Vaeth and Maria Dal Pra of Beaver Island Retreat, Pamela Grassmick, Paul Cole-Chamber Director, Dick Mulvihill worked with ideas and solutions to complete an 86-page document to prove to the IDA that Beaver Island met all the qualifications to become a Dark Sky Sanctuary. 

More of a thesis or primary plan, the application was not a simple, fill-in-the-blanks piece of paperwork. “It was more of a mission and purpose to prove by whom, how, why, where and when Beaver Island has been protected in accordance with the IDA guidelines stated above.” Cynthia Johnson said. “The pleasure was in thanking the many local, county, state and federal agencies that have worked for many years to protect Beaver Island for those very reasons. Our work was done for us to be able to add this extraordinary, final frontier, layer of protection for humans and wildlife on Beaver Island, dark skies and the means to wage war against light pollution.”

Ironically, a few other things came to light. One: the economic development advantages of promoting the dark skies of Beaver Island. Realtors, rental property owners and business have quickly latched onto to the Starry Skies-Dark Skies theme as a promotional tool for advertising the island as a dark sky destination.

Second, Beaver Island more than meets the IDA requirement for “endorsement from a higher authority than the local community.”  After gaining strong local support from a solicitation ad in the NorthernIslander Newspaper from over forty residents and with Letters of Support from visiting astronomers, CMU, the Northern Lake Michigan Island Collaboration, the DNR and more, it was discovered that the State of Michigan was and is…the First State in the Nation to pass legislation establishing and governing dark sky preservations. Michigan has six Dark Sky Preservations, not to be confused with any Dark Sky designations made by the IDA. 

Michigan also made history in June, by establishing by legislation that July 2021 is the official Dark Sky Month in Michigan. Legislation was supported by Robert Parrish, T.K. Lawless Dark Sky Park, Cassopolis, MI. Parrish was also an IDA Advocate contacted by the Dark Sky Project committee to nominate Beaver Island for designation as a Dark Sky Sanctuary. 

That legislation from the State of Michigan put some of the final additions on Beaver Island’s Sanctuary Status process. After two years of work from the Dark Sky Project committee, it looks as if the certification may be awarded from the IDA this year. 

Kevin Boyle and Anita Mauro formatted the final document that will appear on the International Dark Sky Sanctuary page when the IDA announces the designation.

Here is the introduction verbiage in the application describing the Sanctuary. “The Beaver Island Dark Sky Sanctuary is 12, 734 acres of contiguous property on Beaver Island. Beaver Island is the largest island in the Beaver Island Archipelago in Northern Lake Michigan. The proposed Dark Sky Sanctuary, located at the southern least populated area of the island, is made up of 12,734 acres in portions of the Beaver Island State Wildlife Research Area that include limited access roads and trails, and 240 acres on an adjacent research area owned by Central Michigan University that includes a marsh and hiking trails. This isolated location with zero lighting fixtures installed, features an unimpeded deep and dark night sky along with other unique features due to location and conservation efforts. Night sky quality is illustrated and documented in this application with broad spectrum night sky photography, SQM readings, and statements of support by expert star gazers, Astro-photographers and telescope buffs.”

There you have it. In the meantime, be on the lookout for events and presentations that are in the works from the envisioned sanctuary committee. Events have already been held in conjunction with the Beaver Island Historical Society, the Beaver Island District Library, the Beaver Island Sustainability Fair and with the aid of Beaver Island Retreat.

Please take a moment to view the sanctuary’s official website at and follow the Beaver Island Dark Sky Project Facebook Page often featuring amazing night sky photography from Cynthia Hector Johnson, Taffy Raphael and others. 

During the month of August, a visiting astronomer, Tony Miller was available at Donegal Bay Pavilion, to aid with telescope and astronomy observation instruction. The Port St. James Association was instrumental in the education about dark skies as they provided unlimited access to the pavilion for night sky viewing this year.

The next Dark Sky Event will happen in conjunction with the Northern Lake Michigan Islands Collaborative at Little Sand Bay Nature Preserve. As part of the Dark Sky Project mission to create awareness about dark sky preservation by working with other local organizations, members of the NLMIC will be treated to an evening excursion under the stars and view a recent dark sky art installation. 

The event is for everyone! For more information, contact Cynthia Johnson at the Northern Islander, 231-448-3046 or 

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