A New Heritage Area in Washington State?

Maritime Heritage Area announcement

Congressman Derek Kilmer of Washington State discusses a proposal to create a Washington Maritime National Heritage Area on Puget Sound and nearby waters.

I’ve been monitoring efforts to create a maritime heritage area in Washington State that would cover Puget Sound (including Seattle), the Strait of Juan de Fuca between the U.S. and Canada, and the Pacific Coast of Washington State. This week, two Washington State congressmen, Derek Kilmer of the 6th district and Denny Heck of the 10th district, announced their intent to introduce a bill to designate the region’s shoreline as the Washington Maritime National Heritage Area. During an event at the Foss Waterway Seaport museum in Tacoma, Washington State’s historic preservation officer, Allyson Brooks, said Sen. Maria Cantwell would sponsor a version of the bill in the U.S. Senate.

Maritime heritage enthusiasts and scholars have pushed the idea of a national heritage area in western Washington for about 10 years. If enacted, the area would fall under the National Park Service’s Heritage Area program, which oversees 49 similar areas across the U.S., mostly east of the Mississippi River. The areas promote local economic growth and preserve sites and landmarks with cultural and historical significance. Each area is managed by local officials, with no new regulatory authority over management or preservation given to the National Park Service. Washington State supporters see a heritage area as a major tourism draw, especially to rural counties. A small amount of money for promoting the area comes with the designation.

The Kilmer/Heck/Cantwell proposal raises the profile of a heritage area in Washington State, but the legislation’s immediate prospects in Congress are dim. The Republican-controlled House opposes any new law perceived as an extension of federal power, no matter how benign. A heritage area is mostly an honorific, and as Brooks pointed out several times, carries no new regulatory authority.

Opponents have prevailed so far. For example, a proposal to create a similar area around the mouth of the Columbia River failed after conservative local residents used the weak, but effective “slippery slope” argument: If you let the feds declare a heritage area, what’s to stop them from confiscating your land, taking your guns, making you sign up for Obamacare, and similar silliness. The GOP wants to reform the law governing heritage areas, but a bill to do just that is stuck in committee, and the website GovTrack.us gives that measure an 11 percent chance of passage. Even state lawmakers are leery of the idea of a heritage area; A measure in the Washington Legislature to designate a state version died in the state senate earlier this year.

Despite the good a maritime heritage area would do for local communities, DC politics will likely keep the idea on the back-burner for a long time. Cantwell might be able to push a bill through the Senate, but the House is another matter entirely. Kilmer and Heck are Democratic newcomers to Congress, and their influence is limited. It’s going to be a case of introducing legislation every year until the Congress moves left or the supporters get lucky enough to find a majority.

Disclosure: I’m communications director for Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, which could benefit from a maritime heritage area. Opinions expressed here are my own.

Seattle Lightship Back Home

Lightship No. 83 - Swiftsure

Lightship No. 83, also known by its last station at Swiftsure Bank, is back at its berth in Seattle.

The 1904 Lightship No. 83, also known as “Swiftsure,” has returned to her berth at Lake Union Park in Seattle, and I finally had a chance to visit and take a few pictures. I love her bright red paint and the “new” feel to her. I bet she has that “new car smell” on the inside. The shroud in the photo is actually her winter cover, meant to keep as much of Seattle’s damp off her as possible. Access to the ship is limited, and she needs another $1 million to complete the restoration project. See my previous blog post for more details.

Seattle Lightship Nearly Ready for Re-Launch

Lightship No. 83 Swiftsure

Lightship No. 83 – Swiftsure before her restoration work. Photo by Joe Follansbee.

A Seattle preservation group plans to re-launch a historic lightship after three months of restoration work. Lightship No. 83, also known as Lightship Swiftsure, is nearing completion of the second phase of Northwest Seaport’s $1 million project to replace the deck, rigging, remove hazardous materials, and restore the Swiftsure’s primary electrical systems. When finished, the ship will be re-opened to the public at Lake Union Park in Seattle.

Crews at Lake Union Drydock Company in Seattle have removed the deteriorated wheelhouse, radio house, and the wooden weather deck.  Deck beams were cleaned, primed and painted to prepare for installation of a new wooden deck. Sections of original 1904 planking were discovered still in place.  Saxon Bisbee, Northwest Seaport’s archaeologist, said, “We discovered 100-year old pitch and oakum still in just a few seams. This is a direct link back to Camden shipwrights.“ The lightship was built in Camden, New Jersey in 1904.

Below the waterline, the hull was cleaned, inspected, patched and reinforced.  The entire hull was also painted with the Coast Guard Red paint.  Most of the 109-year old hull was declared sound, but corrosion had made several small holes in hull plating. Emptying the tanks and patching the steel hull plating sent the project $80,000 over budget.

The final days in drydock will include replacing the lightship’s beacon light, painting on the white station lettering “SWIFTSURE,” and re-launching the vessel into Lake Union. Tugs will return her to the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park. “Relighting the lightship will be an inspiring symbol for our community, and we’re blessed have this life-saving National Historic Landmark in Seattle,” said Otto Loggers, Northwest Seaport executive director.

Source: Northwest Seaport

New DeWire Lighthouse Guide

The DeWire Guide to Lighthouses of Alaska, Hawai’i, and the U.S. Pacific Territories, by Elinor DeWire. Paradise Cay Publications, 204 pages, softcover, $19.95.

DeWire Lighthouse Guide coverWhen it comes to lighthouses, most of the country’s attention focuses on the East Coast, particularly New England, where the density of lighthouses per square mile is greater than the population of fleas on a dog’s back. On the opposite end of the density scale, as well as the opposite side of the planet, are the lighthouses in Alaska, Hawaii, and the country’s island possessions. Though fewer and younger, these light stations have just as many interesting stories to tell, and prolific lighthouse historian Elinor DeWire has captured them perfectly in her new book, The DeWire Guide to Lighthouses in Alaska, Hawai’i, and the U.S. Pacific Territories.

DeWire’s 16th book is detailed enough to be a solid reference on the subject, while compact enough to help the casual traveler find and enjoy these sentinels. The lighthouses of the 49th and 50th state pose special problems for the visitor; many, if not most, are fairly remote, if not outright impossible to visit, unlike the urban lighthouses of the lower 48. And DeWire’s history of the lights on tiny islands such as Tinian and Howland (believed to be the final resting place of aviator Amelia Earhart), are a revelation. Until I read her book, I had no idea these lighthouses existed. And some, such as the lights on Guam, are as important to navigation as famous lights on the U.S. mainland.

DeWire rounds out her entertaining book with a tutorial on the history of buoys, silent, reliable, unsung guardians that have helped mariners since at least the 13th century. Today, the various types of floating markers, some of which gather information for weather and tsunami forecasts, make up 75 percent of America’s official aids to navigation, and the U.S. Coast Guard spends much of its resources on maintaining them. Though sea rescues are the most glamorous work performed by the Coast Guard, keeping these devices operating and in good condition is accomplished by a fleet of ships and an army of specialists. These men and women are heroes in their own right, and DeWire has done justice to their contribution.

9 Best Lighthouse Climbs

The iconic shape of the classic lighthouse—tall and thin against a nearly featureless seascape—invites the viewer to wonder about the view from the top. Fortunately, many lighthouses open to the public allow visitors to climb a spiral staircase and take in the vista. Most of these climbs aren’t for the faint of heart—literally—and the interiors of lighthouses can be hot on a summer day. Parents should also be careful about bringing a small child along; some lighthouses have a minimum height requirement for youngsters, usually around 45 inches. But the visual reward after a good workout is always tremendous.

Lighthouses allowing climbs have varying operating hours, often only during the summer months. Most charge a fee ranging from $2 to $10 for climbing to the lantern or an exterior gallery. The money often supports restoration efforts by a local historical society. Some lighthouses offer guided tours; other climbs are self-guided. Be sure to call ahead to check hours and availability.

Here’s my recommended lighthouses climbs, with input from my friends on Facebook’s “Lighthouse Hunters” group. Click the links in bold to find a map and contact information.

Assateague — At 154 feet, the Assateague Lighthouse is one of the tallest on the Atlantic Coast. Located in the Assateague National Seashore in Virginia, the 1833 structure is just a five-minute drive from the community of Chincoteague. The lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it’s still an operational beacon; the light can be seen 19 miles out to sea.

Cape Hatteras — “The climb is strenuous!” That’s the description that goes with the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse climb on the National Park Service’s website for the tallest lighthouse in America. The barber-pole stripes on the exterior of this 1870 beacon, located in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, echo the spiral staircase on the interior. You’ll climb 248 cast iron steps to the top, the same height as a 12-story building (200 feet).

Cape May – Marking the New Jersey side of the entrance to Delaware Bay, the 1859 Cape May Lighthouse is one of the best preserved 19th century beacons on the Atlantic Coast. You’ll climb 199 steps to reach the gallery 157 feet above ground level, and you’ll see a panoramic view of the Jersey Cape, Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean. It’s a busy place; more than 100,000 visitors a year. But the experience is well worth braving the crowds.

Currituck Beach — Lovingly restored by a local non-profit preservation society, the 1875 Currituck Beach Lighthouse features 214 steps that lead to an outdoor gallery 158 feet from the ground. During the summer, the lighthouse is open Thursdays until 8 p.m., giving visitors a chance to see the operating light shine out to sea. guiding ships and small craft along the Outer Banks.

Grays Harbor — Located in the small town of Westport, Wash., on the Pacific Ocean, the 107-foot Grays Harbor Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Washington state. Volunteers at the Westport Maritime Museum welcome you to climb the 135 stairs to the lantern room, where the original Fresnel lens is still installed. A modern light maintained by the Coast Guard guides vessels into Grays Harbor, which the lighthouse has guarded since 1898. (Watch a Fyddeye video tour.)

Marblehead, Ohio — At just 50 feet, the Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio is one of the shorter lighthouse climbs. On the other hand, Marblehead is one of the oldest, just 11 years shy of two centuries. And the view from the top is just as thrilling as for taller, younger structures. The tower is located in Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, and tours are offered during the summer months.

North Point — The 1888 North Point Lighthouse is a prime example of historic Wisconsin lighthouses that have comforted ship captains on Great Lakes voyages. At 74 feet, the lighthouse is an important landmark in Milwaukee’s Lake Park, adding an extra dimension to a beautiful lakefront setting designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Unlike many lighthouses, North Point’s site includes a fully restored keepers quarters.

St. Augustine — Easily one of the most popular and well-preserved lighthouses in America, the 1874 St. Augustine Lighthouse in St. Augustine, Fla., is a challenge for climbers aiming to reach the top of the 165-foot tower after 219 steps. If the climb seems daunting, the amazing museum will more than satisfy. New this year is a series of moonlight “paranormal” tours of the tower, which examine whether or not the lighthouse is haunted.

Point Vicente — One of the lesser known climbable lighthouses on California’s rugged coast is Point Vicente Lighthouse, located in Rancho Palos Verdes. The 1926 cylindrical concrete tower is just 64 feet tall, and it’s only open a few days of the year by a local Coast Guard Auxiliary. But given its proximity to Los Angeles, and the nearby interpretive center, Point Vicente is one of the most accessible to a large population of lighthouse lovers.

Updated 9/8/2011 — My friends have suggested these lighthouses as great climbs, especially for kids: Yaquina Head (Oregon), Hunting Island (South Carolina), North Head (Washington), Mukilteo (Washington), and Crisp Point (Michigan).

Video: Grays Harbor Lighthouse

Here’s an original Fyddeye Guide video featuring the Grays Harbor Lighthouse in Westport, Wash.