PORT TOWNSEND — Port Wilson Lighthouse has been leased to the U.S. Lighthouse Society, which plans to restore the property’s facilities to allow public tours of the buildings.
The Coast Guard owns the property and will maintain the use of the light portion of the lighthouse, as it is still an active aid to navigation, said Jeff Gales, executive director of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.
The lease costs the Lighthouse Society $1 a year. Gales estimates the cost of the project will be between $800,000 and more than $1 million.
Gales said the society, which finalized the lease in August, is putting together a restoration strategy. The group aims to have the lighthouse in touring condition by Thanksgiving at the earliest.
The lease is in part due to the Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, which created a path for the Coast Guard to follow to divest property that is no longer needed, Gales said.
“The goal of that is to keep them open to the public as much as possible,” Gales said. “For instance when a lighthouse is no longer needed, typically they will open it up to the Lighthouse Preservation Act process.”
Gales explained that if the specific light of the lighthouse is needed, the Coast Guard has been known to mount it on a pole outside of the house, but will divest the property itself.
“Nonprofits, historical groups, sometimes local counties, some parks or some entity that’s nonprofit typically can go ahead and take over the light station,” Gales said. “And part of the application process is to show the Coast Guard that you have the wherewithal to take care of it, to preserve it and keep it open.
“[This process] is to prevent it from going to a private party that could just turn it into their vacation home and close it off permanently, which happened quite often before 2000.”
The team already has started work on the project, mainly on cosmetic property cleaning, due to vandalism.
“There’s no permanent presence there, which opens the door for vandals,” Gales said.
Gales expects the full restoration to take at least three years.
The leasing applications started back in 2016, when the Coast Guard put out a call for bids from nonprofits to take over the restoration of the site, and the society was selected from those bids in August, said Jeffrey Zappen, Coast Guard lighthouse coordinator.
“This is a win-win for everybody,” Zappen said. “This is right up their alley.”
The U.S. Lighthouse Society is a nationwide organization specializing in education about lighthouses and restoration and maintenance of lighthouses nationwide. It was established in 1983 in San Francisco, and its headquarters relocated to Point No Point in 2008, where it has been since.
Gales has served as executive director of the organization for 15 years.
The society plans to work with the Fort Worden Public Development Authority to help each other benefit from the improvements to the lighthouse and the traffic that the park already attracts.
“With these two teams together, I expect in five years that that lighthouse will look brand new,” Zappen said.
The society currently holds two additional lighthouses in Washington: Point No Point in Kitsap County and New Dungeness in Clallam County.
Gales and his team are working on refining the long-term plan for the Point Wilson, as there will need to be extensive updates to the electricity, sewer, heating and other infrastructure.
The end goal is to open all three main buildings — the lighthouse and two dwellings — to the public.
Society members hope eventually that the facility’s profits allow it to become self-sufficient.
People who are interested in the U.S. Lighthouse Society and volunteering with the restoration of Point Wilson are encouraged to either go to pointwilsonlighthouse.org or email Jeff Gales at [email protected].
More information on the history of the U.S. Lighthouse Society can be found at uslhs.org.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].