Dark Sky Programming at Voyageurs National Park

After Voyageurs National Park received the International Dark Sky designation in December 2020, the park and the Voyageurs Conservancy have been working to expand public programming on the natural and cultural significance of Voyageurs National Park’s dark, starry skies. Recently, the conservancy launched the Dark Sky Initiative, a joint effort to preserve light pollution-free habitats for the species who call the park home and expand public programming to visitors.

The Dark Sky Initiative is designed to bring Voyageurs’ boundless sky and countless stars to anyone’s fingertips. During the park’s busy summer months, Voyageurs Conservancy education specialists and park rangers present weekly Dark Sky Programs featuring guided constellation tours across space and telescope sessions for visitors. With its brand-new 18’ telescope, participants will have the opportunity to view distant planets, galaxies, and mesmerizing starscapes like never before.

“We are still figuring out what it means to be a dark sky park and how to best share this feature with the public, says Christina Hausman Rhode, Executive Director of Voyageurs Conservancy.  We working to establish joint goals and exploring new projects like innovative ways to connect visitors to the night sky adding full-time dark sky staff to promote learning year-round.”

In August, hundreds of visitors took part in the third-annual Star Party. This lively multi-day astronomy festival features special speakers, Perseid meteor shower viewings, arts and crafts, telescope sessions, guided constellation tours, and more. 

In an effort to expand Dark Sky programming beyond park visitors, the conservancy brings the wonder of Voyageurs’ night skies to students across the country through its Virtual Dark Sky Classroom. These free programs introduce youth to dark sky concepts including Light Pollution, Northern Lights, and Moon phases and include a live, virtual classroom visit from a conservancy night sky expert.

The park’s new visitor center on Crane Lake presents the perfect opportunity to weave together the story of preservation of darkness and preservation of cultural stories. Voyageurs Conservancy and the National Park Service are designing and fabricating 1,500 square feet of exhibit space in a new visitor center in Crane Lake, the eastern gateway to Voyageurs National Park.

For more information, visit www.voyageurs.org/darkskies.

National Park Partners Saves Civil War Landmark in Chattanooga, TN

A project several years in the making came to fruition on August 4th as National Park Partners for Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Moccasin Bend closed on the historic Brown’s Tavern property and around 15 acres along the Tennessee River that was the site of the Battle of Brown’s Ferry. Built in 1803 by Cherokee businessman and ferry operator, John Brown, Brown’s Tavern is the oldest standing structure in Hamilton County, TN. The tavern sits on a hillside encompassing about ten acres along Brown’s Ferry Road, at the base of Lookout Mountain in the community of Lookout Valley (also known locally as Tiftonia). US Army soldiers used the tavern property as a staging ground following the Battle of Brown’s Ferry and leading up to the famous “Battle Above the Clouds” on the slopes of Lookout Mountain during the Civil War Campaign for Chattanooga.

Brown’s Tavern was a private residence for at least the past 100 years and was saved from certain development when the most recent family to own the tavern and surrounding acreage decided to sell. The American Battlefield Trust sought to use state and federal historic preservation grants to purchase both the tavern and ferry landing properties; National Park Partners agreed to take subsequent ownership of these historic lands since having a local partner hold the properties was a condition of the American Battlefield Trust’s purchase. While ABT worked to assemble the funding, Chattanooga businessman and history buff, Bill Chapin, bought the tavern in 2019 to ensure its preservation rather than risk another buyer coming in on the open market.

ABT took possession from Mr. Chapin in 2020 and began the process of protecting the tavern land and the ferry landing from future development through a permanent conservation easement with the State of Tennessee. The process took longer than usual due to the pandemic, but once the easements were in place, the land transfer to NPP was ready to proceed.

In the past few years, National Park Partners and the American Battlefield Trust worked together on landscape maintenance and upkeep for the surrounding acreage. NPP hosted several educational programs at the tavern and ferry landing over the past few years for the neighboring Lookout Valley Elementary School fifth grade students; the Chattanooga Area Historical Association; local DAR chapters; and more. NPP secured an estimate for historic restoration of the Tavern and is actively fundraising for that effort as well as developing a set of use policies for events and activities at this historic site. Read more here about Brown’s Tavern, an important witness structure to the Trail of Tears and the Battles for Chattanooga, and how National Park Partners stepped up to preserve these critical buffer lands for Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

“While outside the boundary of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, we knew the property was incredibly significant to the interpretation of the Campaign for Chattanooga and to the Indigenous history of our area,” says executive director Tricia Mims. “Our Board of Directors deliberated long and hard about taking this on, but ultimately, the alternative of not having the property preserved forever was inconceivable. We knew we had to step up to ensure this incredible piece of American history would not slip away.”

Friends of the Apostle Islands

Tracy Tabaka looks out at the blue horizons of Lake Superior. There, just beyond the Meyers Beach parking area, lie the green jewels of the wild Apostle Islands, the famous sea caves. She smiles, thinking of the freedom she will feel with a paddle in her hands, the wind in her face. She has been dreaming of this moment for years. But that smile fades as she looks down at the barrier before her — 45 steps tumbling down the 23-foot bank to the launching area below – and then at her wheelchair.

“When I pick up a paddle, I am no more disabled than anyone else,” she said of that moment. “The only real difficulty is all those stairs.”

National parks, like the Apostle Islands, belong to all of us. Yet for the one in five Americans like Tracy who live with mobility challenges, “all those stairs” can spell the difference between the adventure of a lifetime and a lifetime of being left behind. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a rich and complex landscape consisting of twenty-one islands spread out over 450 square miles of Lake Superior, twelve miles of northern Wisconsin shoreline, lighthouses, historic fisheries, sixty-six campsites, bears, beaches, and sea caves.

For the past 10 years Friends of the Apostle Islands has been work with Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on projects to make the park more accessible. A 2012 “Accessibility Self-Evaluation,” made clear both the challenges and opportunities facing the park in its effort to become more accessible. Since then, the partnership has made much progress:

  • A wheelchair accessible overlook on the dock at Little Sand Bay
  • Accessible campsites, restrooms, and more than a mile of boardwalk on Sand Island
  • An accessible amphitheater and campsite on Stockton Island
  • Audio and tactile interpretative materials at Visitor Centers and online

In order to increase financial support of accessibility projects, Friends of the Apostles has developed a multi-year Access for All campaign. Currently, the Friends are raising $325,000 to create a 520-foot accessible ramp gently traversing the hillside leading to a scenic overlook and providing access to the kayak launching area at Meyers Beach and beyond.

“With Friends raising $325,000 to leverage matching funds provided by the National Park Service, we can open one of the most beautiful and popular areas of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to everyone strengthening our commitment to the belief that our park truly belongs to all of us,” says Jeff Rennicke, Executive Director.

Access for All will strengthen the park’s ability to implement projects that may otherwise go unfunded for decades, opening key areas of the park for use by a wider range of visitors, removing “all those stairs” as a barrier.

For more information about the campaign, visit https://friendsoftheapostleislands.org/access-for-all/