The concept of lighthouse preservation has rightfully been thrust to the forefront of our national consciousness, with a wide range of “buzz” words and phrases to support the historical benefits, educational values and romantic notions derived from participating in this most worthy cause for posterity. Who can argue against the importance of saving America’s lighthouses for future generations? Everyone can readily visualize the positives associated with protecting and preserving our cherished maritime monuments that grace the shorelines, bays and rivers of this great nation. What is not as easy to comprehend is the endless commitment and sacrifice required to transform our complex dreams into reality.
By design, lighthouses were situated on the edge of the ocean’s fury in order to effectively protect mariners and warn them of dangers lurking in the unforgiving waters they regularly traversed upon. Similarly, there are no present-day guarantees as organizations ply the risky and uncertain waters of preservation to help save America’s lighthouses. External forces such as the economy, politics and the threat of terrorism place enormous weight upon the shoulders of non-profit organizations seeking to raise the necessary funds to apply critical restoration work to our nation’s sentinels of wood, brick, mortar and steel. In addition, every organization faces internal struggles ranging from addressing various agendas that can exist within the group to a shortage of volunteers willing to perform the vital fundraising or physical work at hand.
Usually, very little effort is required to initially charge up the emotions of a community about the idea of helping to save one of their local lighthouses. Countless folks tend to step forward to voice their unwavering support for someone or some organization to take the lead in transforming this concept of lighthouse preservation into reality. Also, the community is usually never short on a wealth of ideas and possibilities for their favorite lighthouse, nor does it initially ever appear that there will be an eventual shortage of effective volunteers to turn wishes and words into action. If it were only that easy.
Sadly, even the most ardent lighthouse preservationists will tell you that in many cases, their unyielding dedication and sacrifice isn’t quite enough to stave off or keep ahead of the adverse affects to America’s lighthouses brought on by Mother Nature, the winds of change and life itself. Does this stark fact render our all-consuming efforts in the lighthouse preservation world useless? Not in the least bit. Nonetheless, what it does reveal is the serious nature of our quest and the ever-present dilemmas ready to befall our collective efforts if we stop pressing forward with all our might. From the American Lighthouse Foundation, which has stepped forward to assume the monumental responsibility of preserving 14 historic New England lights, to smaller organizations nationwide, the fact is that their missions hang in the balance due to the insatiable demands of time, energy and money associated with effective and sustainable lighthouse preservation.
Every person associated with lighthouse preservation wrestles with the same problems of life in one form or another. No one has spare time when the stress of work, the needs of our families and the personal well-being of our mental and physical health requires constant attention. Yet, the time factor is only conquered when we discipline ourselves and make major sacrifices to place lighthouses on the short list of our priorities. When volunteers assume “ownership” in lighthouse preservation, the sparkling results speak for themselves.
Then there is the financial responsibility associated with lighthouse preservation. Unfortunately, many folks will deem this an unpopular burden and simply chose to look the other way when asked to help. Yet, the cold, hard facts are that memberships to our favorite organizations, though extremely important, are not nearly enough to support the incredible financial strain of lighthouse preservation. Boards of Directors and members of lighthouse organizations nationwide need to band together more than ever to address our collective financial responsibility for preservation - there is no getting around the fact that effective preservation is expensive and ongoing and that no one else will help us but ourselves.
So then what is lighthouse preservation? Lighthouse preservation is no more than passionate volunteers who recognize the need and importance of our maritime heritage, subsequently make it a priority in their lives and then allow no excuse to prevent them from achieving goals that make a real and lasting difference to America’s lighthouses. In turn, the lighthouse will stand tall in lasting tribute to the caring individuals who came, saw and conquered the challenges of preservation in their time for tomorrow’s future generations. Therefore, the next time your favorite lighthouse organization reaches out and asks for your volunteer time and financial assistance, remember - you are the definition of lighthouse preservation!
This story appeared in the
May 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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