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Michigan’s oldest lighthouse aglow once again

by Candice Miller on May 21, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

By James Kelley
Voice Reporter

http://www.voicenews.com/articles/2012/05/21/news/doc4fba64e2954e2016682785.txt
After a recent face lift, the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse is once again open to the public.

The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse was reopened Saturday morning with dignitaries and area residents on-hand to view the recent work done to the lighthouse and some of the building on the grounds of the park.

Mark Brochu, Director of the St. Clair County Parks and Recreation, said he now has an answer to a question he has been asked a number of times since the lighthouse’s closing in 2005.

“Over the past few years, I have been constantly asked when people can get back up into the lighthouse tower and see that spectacular view over the water,” Brochu said. “With the reopening taking place, now I have an answer for the people and they are thrilled. I have been getting a lot of feedback from people who are excited to either take their first trip up the tower or revisit it again.”

The ceremony was held at 11 a.m. Saturday and featured guest speakers such as U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. Candice Miller along with other representatives from groups involved in getting the grounds reopened to the public.

The restoration was made possible through the Save America’s Treasures and the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program grants, which went to help restore not only the lighthouse but also some of the facilities on the grounds as well.

“We have replaced the brick on the lighthouse and done some exterior work to a few of the buildings surrounding the lighthouse,” Brochu said. “We have even replaced some doors on one of the buildings with doors authentic to the 1930s and the original blueprint for the site. It’s important for us to keep the authentic feel and look on the property.”

One group that has worked diligently over the past few years to help raise funding for the lighthouse has been the Friends of the Fort Gratiot Light. According to the group’s chairman, David Brooks, the Friends of the Fort Gratiot Light have raised $50,000 since 2009 to help support the project.

“Our mission is to preserve, restore and maintain the lighthouse,” Brooks said. “We have raised a lot of money to support grant matches so that we are doubling our dollars towards the property. We want people to know that we aren’t done yet and the finished product is still a few years away. For now, it’s great to get it back open to the public so they can enjoy the history.”

One example of the ongoing efforts to restore the property will be the coating of paint that will be redone this spring on the lighthouse. The previous coat didn’t hold up against the humidity last year and will be replaced when the humidity levels are low this spring. Brooks also said additional plans of adding exhibits to highlight the history of the lighthouse will be added in the coming years.

The Port Huron Power Squadron provided educational demonstrations on boater’s safety at Saturday’s program. According to the squadron’s executive officer Dale Lashbrook, residents can enjoy free demonstrations on personal floatation devices, fire extinguishers and distress flares. The squadron will also have a table set up with information on safe boating and representatives to answer questions from the public.

Lashbrook said he is especially excited for the squadron to be a part of the reopening of a piece of the area’s history.

“It’s very special for me personally because my grandfather and father were sailors on the Great Lakes when lighthouses were a crucial part of navigating the waterways,” Lashbrook said. “It’s a part of our maritime history and it would have been a shame if it had been left to deteriorate. The fact they are restoring it and reopening it is fantastic and the Port Huron Power Squadron is proud to be a part of it.”

“This has been two years in the making and we are very excited to finally have the park open the public again,” Park historian Dennis Delor said. “All of the money we collect for tours will go back into restoring the site as we have a 25-year plan for the site. We have a lot of work to do to make it appear like it did back in the 1930s.”

“We know people are thrilled to be able to get back on top of the tower and have that amazing view again,” Delor said. “We are excited to have the park open once again and it’s only going to get better and better as time continues. We encourage everyone in the area to come and take the tower tour for the first time ever or the first time since its opening. Each time it is always breathe taking.”

The lighthouse is now open for tours at the cost of $5 per person or free of charge to those who are members of the Friends of the Fort Gratiot Light. Residents will be able to walk the grounds of the county park for free and visit the gift shop located in one of the three restored buildings.

To find out how to donate to the Friends of the Fort Gratiot Light, contact the Port Huron Museum at (810) 982-0891.

James Kelley is a freelance reporter. He can be contacted at jameskelley.reporter@yahoo.com.

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