Work is finally complete that will allow tours to resume at the St. George Reef Lighthouse as soon as November. For over 16 years the St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society offered lighthouse tours, which were discontinued in 2012 when the Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics determined that the helipad at the lighthouse was too small. Guy Towers, co-founder of the St. George’s Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society, said Friday, “We’re clear to operate again.”
Towers said the preservation society has been flying small work crews out once a month to spend three day weekends working on the lighthouse.
Society member Terry McNamara said that in order to increase the radius of the landing pad, a section of granite blocks had to be removed and sealed.
The crew also worked to fix a leaky roof over the lantern room.
McNamara said the “catch deck” just needs to be restriped and inspected in order to show that it meets the Department of Transportation requirements.
One of the crew members to fly out last weekend was Crescent City Clerk Kymmie Scott.
Scott went out with seven others Saturday and returned Sunday. She said most of her work time was spent resealing leaks and scraping paint. Others worked on the electrical system, the light, the landing deck and lantern room.
“Mostly we were just trying to prevent further damage,” she said.
The light has been sent off for repairs and a temporary one has been installed in the meantime, Towers said.
Little seen history
While the preservation society took many people out to the lighthouse over the years, its distance from the shore has kept it off limits to most, who can only see it on a clear day with a telescope, long camera lens or trained eye.
Towers noted that the lighthouse was operated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service from 1882 to 1939, then by the U.S. Coast Guard after that.
“There are still traces of both of those groups remaining out there today,” he said. “As we restore it, we want the structure to reflect both of those services.”
He said a goal of the society is to make the lighthouse as it was when it was manned and for people to see and understand its history.
“We’ve made great progress,” he said. “The utilities are functional and we’ve been remodeling the rooms, based on historical photos we have.”
Scott described the interior of the lighthouse tower as a 103-step spiral staircase with large rooms off to the sides.
“It’s very serene in the evening,” she said, “and the sunset from out there was amazing.” Scott said she was awestruck at the size and construction of the lighthouse, especially considering it’s 6 miles off shore and was finished in 1891. “It’s such a massive structure,” she said. “It’s just mind-blowing.”
The lighthouse is owned by the county and leased to the preservation society, Towers said. A chronology of the lighthouse can be found at http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=26
Tours to resume
Before 2012, the preservation society had been providing tours of the lighthouse for more than 16 years.
A legal requirement of the tours is that they only occur between November and April due to the presence of Steller sea lions on the rocks below. Through an agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the preservation society is allowed one flight a month for repairs and maintenance from April to November.
In the touring months, the preservation society is allowed to take 36 people per day to the lighthouse, in groups of four. The flight out takes about 25 minutes and visitors get to spend about 90 minutes touring the lighthouse.
Towers said the $195 per person cost essentially covers the preservation non-profit society’s costs.
According to lighthousefriends.com, Captain George Vancouver named the reef’s outcroppings “Dragon Rocks.” The nearest point of land was dubbed Point St. George, in the hopes that the dragon might one day be slain.
The house at Point St. George was used by lightkeepers while they were ashore.