ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — The park and much of the surrounding terrain on Mount Desert Island are known worldwide for their beauty, which attracts people from all over the world to look at the island’s majestic cliffs, rocky mountains, ocean shoreline and natural wooded setting.
But lately Acadia also has been getting attention for something else that is disappearing in more developed areas: the pristine night sky.
To draw attention to and to celebrate the visibility of stars in eastern and northern Maine, officials with the park and on MDI have organized the Acadia Night Sky Festival, which is set to get under way in the park and in Bar Harbor next week. The festival begins Thursday, Sept. 17, and runs through Monday, Sept. 21.
Peter Lord, director of the Island Astronomy Institute on MDI, said Friday that festival organizers expect to be busy during the event, which they plan to do annually. Individual festival programs, some of which cost money and require advance registration, include telescope-aided stargazing events in the park, art shows, panel discussions, planetarium presentations, and owl-related exhibits, to name a few.
“The problem is how much there is on the schedule,” Lord said, adding that a high number of festival events is a good problem to have. “If this weather pattern holds, it will be great.”
The idea for the festival arose out of a growing local recognition that the Milky Way, stars and planets are still visible on clear nights in eastern and northern Maine, but largely have disappeared over most of the East Coast because of light pollution.
Sonya Berger, interpretive ranger for Acadia, said Friday that the bright multitude of stars in the area is one reason people come to the park. It’s also why the National Park Service has devoted more time in recent years to trying to protect the visibility of the night sky at its parks nationwide, she said.
“It’s not just the beautiful oceanfront,” Berger said of Acadia’s appeal. “It’s also the beauty of the Milky Way across the night sky. We have a chance to preserve this view.”
The night sky is not only nice to look at, she added, but it also is a reminder of historical milestones such as the development of celestial calendars and navigation techniques.
John Kelly, park planner for Acadia, said Friday that the festival is expected to promote tourism in the region and to highlight the natural resource of the night sky, which is why it is a good fit both for the park and the local business community.
“When seemingly divergent interests come together, it’s really a great thing,” Kelly said. “We’ve all got to get behind maintaining the night sky.”
The Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce has helped organize the festival, which is expected to help draw visitors to the MDI area during the slower fall tourist season.
“It offers a wonderful opportunity to help bring people to Bar Harbor,” Heather Jones, events coordinator for the Chamber, said Friday.
Holding the event after Labor Day when the days are shorter, she said, also should help broaden the festival’s audience, even if there are fewer tourists on MDI.
“It’s a wonderful time to see the stars because they come out earlier,” Jones said. “I’m very excited to bring the kids.”
Many of the festival events will be held rain or shine, Jones said.
The Chamber is holding an art show and a separate night sky-themed art contest, the submissions deadline for which is Wednesday, Sept. 16. Artists who want to submit works for the contest should contact Jones at 288-5103, ext. 112.
There also will be advanced photography workshops Friday and Saturday nights with astronomer and artist Tyler Nordgren, who designed the festival’s signature poster. Each workshop costs $65, requires preregistration, and is limited to 12 people.
A display and silent auction of Nordgren’s work will be at the Bar Harbor Municipal Building during the festival, according to Lord.
Also at the municipal building on the weekend will be an inflatable planetarium where people can attend sessions on the night sky, Lord said. Tickets for the planetarium sessions are $3 for adults, $2 for children.
The festival also includes a performance at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, at the Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor by pianist Paul Sullivan. Tickets for Sullivan’s concert, which cost $10, can be purchased by contacting Stephanie Clement at Friends of Acadia at 288-3340.
Also scheduled is a panel discussion on sustainable tourism from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, at College of the Atlantic.
For additional scheduling, registration or contact information, go to the festival’s official Web site, www.nightskyfestival.org