2017-05-20 / News

Repairs Cancel Lighthouse Open House

By Cathryn Lien


The Round Island Lighthouse was built in 1895 and operated until 1947. It is viewable from Mackinac Island’s southeast shore. A virtual tour on the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society’s Web site (http://roundislandlightmichigan.com) allows the public to see inside the lighthouse. The Round Island Lighthouse was built in 1895 and operated until 1947. It is viewable from Mackinac Island’s southeast shore. A virtual tour on the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society’s Web site (http://roundislandlightmichigan.com) allows the public to see inside the lighthouse. The annual Round Island Lighthouse open house has been cancelled this year, owing to an array of repair and restoration issues revealed in a recently issued federal report.

“The structural issues and public transportation difficulties are to blame for this year’s cancellation,” said Pat Eckenstahler, secretary of the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society.

Since 2007, an open house has been hosted at the lighthouse each summer, typically the weekend after the July 4 holiday. It gives the public an opportunity to explore the interior of the 122- year-old lighthouse.

The Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society was formed in 2009 as a nonprofit organization to help aid the historic preservation and restoration of the historic building and to increase public awareness of and access to the lighthouse.

Round Island is mostly a designated Wilderness Area, administered by the Hiawatha National Forest, which owns the entire Island, including the Lighthouse. The lighthouse area, however, is excluded from the Wilderness designation.

“The National Forest commissioned a historic structures report, a technical report investigating the structures from an engineering standpoint regarding all things Round Island and the lighthouse,” explained Robert West, district ranger for the Forest Service in St. Ignace. “The report was issued to monitor restoration activity and keep the historical integrity intact.”

The most critical restoration needs revealed in the report were for the staircase. The report showed that the staircase is only safe for use by maintenance personnel because it lacks modern supports necessary to allow public access to the second floor and tower of the lighthouse.

“The first floor is mechanical and used for maintenance of the lighthouse,” Mrs. Eckenstahler said. “When you first enter the lighthouse, you see a central wood staircase leading up to the second floor, which is most interesting to visitors, because that’s where the lighthouse keeper and his family would live when the lighthouse was in operation.”

From the second floor, there’s an iron stairway leading to the tower, which allows for scenic views of Mackinac Island, Mackinac Bridge, and Straits of Mackinac. Without accessible staircases to the second floor family area and tower, the public will miss two of the most appealing aspects of the Round Island Lighthouse. When renovations get underway, historical integrity will be a priority, along with public accessibility; the staircase will be replicated to match the style of the original.

Coupled with interior restorations is the issue of transportation from Mackinac Island to Round Island. “We lack a boat to transport visitors,”

Mrs. Eckenstahler said. “Our previous worker, a charter fisherman who owned a 26- foot boat large enough to transport up to 10 people at a time, just sold his boat.”

Transporting visitors is a challenge, owing to underwater rocks surrounding the spit of land on which the Lighthouse rests – a reason the open house is held only once a year. In past years, the fishing boat took visitors most of the way, but then had to transfer them to an inflatable boat suitable to navigate the shallow water close to shore.

While transportation of the public has become a liability for the Hiawatha National Forest and the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, lighthouse repairs won’t depend on their success at finding a new boat. The interior restorations are their primary focus, she said.

Mrs. Eckenstahler said she has her “fingers and toes crossed for the open house to continue next summer, but specific plans won’t be made until all information has been gathered.”

Mr.West said he hopes to have a final report of all that’s needed to bring the lighthouse up to the necessary standards in June:

“Having this report will allow the Hiawatha National Forest and our partners to seek grant opportunities,” he said. The cost of restoring the staircases is estimated at $40,000. The State of Michigan’s “Save Our Lights” program awards a Michigan Lighthouse Assistant Program Grant to Michigan lighthouses in need of restorations. The grant would reimburse the cost of restoring the Round Island Lighthouse.

The Round Island Light holds a special place in the hearts of Mackinac Island residents and visitors.

“The great-great-great-greatgranddaughter of the first lighthouse keeper recently was married on Mackinac Island and wanted a photo at the Lighthouse,” Mrs. Eckenstahler said. “The Lighthouse holds significant meaning to so many people in the community. And there’s nothing better than the view of Mackinac Island from the lighthouse tower.”

Mr. West hopes to resume open houses in the 2018 season.

“Postponing the open house is in the public’s best interest,” he said. “I’d like to acknowledge the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society for their many years of service. The Hiawatha National Forest Service is lucky and grateful to work with the society.”

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