Emmet County leaders have approved a bond to fund an indoor observatory with restrooms and meeting space at The Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Wawatam Township, about 2 miles west of Mackinaw City.
"Right now the concept plan is to put a program building that's attached to an observatory that has an outdoor plaza that segues into a seating area," said Mary Stewart Adams, the park's program director.
Engineers are working on drawings, and portable restrooms are available this year. Bids for the project could be taken this fall, unless the public forces a vote on the bond. Construction at the park could start later this year and be finished in 2015.
The new building's lighting will be focused in a way to shield light from the sky. A dome donated by the Cranbrook Institute of Science in suburban Detroit will be incorporated into the building. A $45,000 Michigan Department of Natural Resources grant will fund outdoor seating.
The 600-acre county property in 2011 was designated as an International Dark Sky Park, one of more than a dozen around the world. Public lands that meet light pollution and nighttime sky visibility standards are eligible for the certification by the International Dark Sky Association.
The county hopes the new building and observatory will bring more attention to the park, which is open around the clock and provides free admission. Mackinaw City is a busy summer stop for tourists, but is generally quiet in the winter months.
"With this we'd be able to pull events right through the winter," said Laurie Gaetano, the county's parks and recreation director.