2007-02-22 / Letters to the Editor

A light station for the people

In response to your Feb. 15, editorial "Maybe we should put the lighthouse to work," I am happy to offer our experience at Rose Island as just one example that might shed some light on the future management of the Beavertail Light Station.

First, I would like to correct one misnomer. Call it semantics if you like, but the Rose Island Lighthouse is NOT an inn or B&B! It is a self-sufficient, operating light station that welcomes people from all walks of life to learn, first-hand, about being a lighthouse keeper. Because we're a mile offshore with no connections to public utilities, we generate electricity with wind, gather rainwater off the roof, and show people by example and by practice how to conserve.

If you must call it a "B&B," you would have to call it a "do-it-yourself B&B." One New York Times travel writer described it succinctly: "They take you out, show you how things work, and leave you to fend for yourself," for when you stay overnight in our first floor, turn-of-thecentury museum, you must bring and prepare your own food, change the linens on your bed, and do any necessary "light-housekeeping" to make it spotless when the doors open to welcome the public at 10 a.m.

As you said in your editorial, lighthouse lovers are numerous. We find those interested in our kind of "volunteer vacation" are the finest kind, and it follows that the families who become our keepers for a whole week are a cut above those. According to our local Chambers of Commerce and the Newport County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, voluntourism, ecotourism and heritage tourism are the fastest growing segments of the tourist industry. Our overnights and keeper weeks get booked solid during the summer months, and it would please us greatly to share the bounty with Beavertail.

Since we began our program in 1992, Rose Island has been a model for lighthouses around the country that have been turned over to local non-profit organizations and city/town governments to be operated and maintained for public benefit. The various programs of utilization (which must be approved by the Secretary of the Interior, National Park Service) are as different as the characteristics of the lighthouses themselves and the makeup and goals of the stewards to whom these national treasures are entrusted. I'm referring to the fact that all historic lighthouses are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

I can assure you that in the course of providing the requisite public access and education, any lighthouse that offers an overnight program can expect to net between $50,000 to $100,000 per year, depending on the number of rooms, and whether or not you pay your keepers or they pay you. This mission based income goes a long way towards maintaining the light station property, which is the first obligation of its steward. While it remains to be seen whether it can also be used by the town to support low-income housing elsewhere in Jamestown, you can certainly run it up the flagpole as part of the business plan.

For more information on how the education program works at Rose Island, please visit our website at www.roseislandlighthouse. org.

Charlotte E. Johnson, Executive Director, Rose Island

Lighthouse Foundation

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