Cape Flattery Lighthouse named a National Treasure

NEAH BAY — Cape Flattery Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island has been named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Friday’s designation “reflects the lighthouse’s historical significance as a gateway to two countries and an Indian nation, and the Trust and Makah’s joint desire to work together to secure the future of this iconic but threatened lighthouse,” said Andy Grabel, associate director of public affairs for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a news release.

The lighthouse and the adjacent fog signal building are in extreme disrepair, Grabel said, and need almost $2 million in repairs, including structural stabilization and roof replacement.

The National Trust will work with the Makah Tribe and Coast Guard to ensure that adequate funding is approved for its stabilization and repair to preserve the iconic and threatened lighthouse, he said.

Washington state’s second-oldest lighthouse was built in 1857 on the most northwesterly point of the Lower 48 states to guide mariners safely into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the narrow channel that links Canadian and U.S. ports to the Pacific Ocean.

The lighthouse sits on the remote 22-acre Tatoosh Island, three-quarters of a mile offshore, which was long used by the Makah for fishing, whaling and cultural practices during the summer months.

Construction of the lighthouse was a source of contention between the Makah and the U.S. government, as both parties claimed ownership of the island, the National Trust said.

The issue was ultimately resolved when the U.S. Congress returned the island to the Makah Tribe in 1984.

“The Makah Tribe has long recognized Tatoosh Island as vitally important to our maritime traditions and way of life,” said Nathan Tyler, Makah Tribal Council chairman.

“Though we did not at first support the U.S. government presence on the island, we served as important partners in lighthouse operations for decades and recognize the lighthouse as an important part of our story in the area,” he added.

“As the oldest standing historic structure on the Makah Indian Reservation, we are proud to work with the National Trust and federal entities to ensure the lighthouse receives proper recognition and protection.”

The Coast Guard automated Cape Flattery’s light in 1976 and later removed the light feature entirely after a separate LED pole was erected in 2008, thus eliminating the need for the lighthouse.

The Coast Guard officially proposed a transfer of the lighthouse and associated structures to the tribe in 2012, but the Makah Tribe requested that the Coast Guard first initiate consultation and assume responsibility for essential repairs to stabilize and rehabilitate the structures before the tribe assumed management of the property, the National Trust said.

While the Coast Guard and Department of Defense have worked with the Makah on environmental cleanup in the past, it has not made any major building repairs since 1999, nor have any federal funds been allocated for basic, necessary maintenance or repairs to the lighthouse and associated outbuildings.

“Our country’s iconic lighthouses convey important advances in our nation’s maritime trade, transportation, engineering and public safety — contributions that may be easily overlooked in today’s digital information age and by the advent of sophisticated navigation,” said Stephanie K. Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“But these bastions reveal much about the human experience in remote, often harsh landscapes and, in the case of Cape Flattery, represent meaningful chapters in our country’s complex history with Native Americans. It deserves our best stewardship and preservation efforts.”

Possibilities for the Cape Flattery Lighthouse are numerous — from its continued use as a cultural and economic resource for the Makah Tribe to an ideal place for conducting biological, ecological and climate research.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit organization. For more information, see SavingPlaces.org.