Bug Light restoration ‘a story of what a community can do’

08/18/2011 6:19 AM |

A test run visit to make sure visitors will be able to safely reach Bug Light during Greenport’s Sept. 24-25 Maritime Festival was declared a success Saturday afternoon.

Several members of the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation board of directors traveled aboard the Peconic Star Express to check out a just-completed pier built at the lighthouse by Costello Marine of Greenport to make it safe and easy to dock and come ashore. The dock was built at a discount for the foundation.

There has not been a good dock at the lighthouse since its restoration over two decades ago. In the past when tour boats tied up, visitors had to clamber over the rocks to reach the lighthouse. About 10 years ago, regular excursions to the light were suspended because of safety and liability concerns.

Despite a low tide, the crew tied up with ease on Saturday. Using wooden steps, the party of eight along with Peconic Star Capt. Rob Spitzenberg and two deckhands had no trouble making land.

The resumption of trips to the only one of Southold Town’s seven offshore lighthouses at which boats can tie up is a celebration of perseverance, according to seaport museum president Ted Webb.

On July 4, 1963, arsonists destroyed the original Bug Light, so named for its insect-like profile as seen from a distance. A drive to restore the light led by the late Merle Wiggin of East Marion culminated in the construction of the second Long Beach Bar Light, it’s official name, in 1990.

“It’s a story of what a community can do,” Mr. Webb said. Many people volunteered time and materials to the rebuilding effort, and many more have been dedicated to maintenance of the lighthouse, Mr. Webb said. Now he hopes that resuming lighthouse visits will engender the same spirit in the generation that will inherit the maintenance responsibility.

For several years, the foundation raised money by allowing guests to stay in the lighthouse for $1,000 a night. Seven or eight couples a year signed up for the adventure, which included round-trip transportation and delivery of a catered dinner, Mr. Webb said. But safety issues ended the trips several years ago.

“We never had a bad accident,” he said, but concerns about access across slippery rocks led to the suspension.

While no decision has yet been reached about resuming overnight visits, foundation board members hope to raise money by charging about $40 per person for trips to, and inside, the lighthouse during the Maritime Festival.

The Peconic Star Express is expected to leave the Greenport railroad dock behind the maritime museum about every two hours during the two-day event. Bob Allen, whose great-grandfather was a keeper at Bug Light, will conduct the 45- to 60-minute tours. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the light.

From the new dock at Bug Light, visitors will enter through the basement and climb a short stairway to the main room, which features a hammock, picnic table, kitchen area and bathroom. A fenced deck surrounds that level, providing 360-degree harbor views.

A winding metal staircase leads to the mezzanine “bedroom.” Up another level is a platform with a ladder leading to the top of the tower where the fully functional lantern is located.

On a clear day, the shore of Old Saybrook, Conn., is clearly visible across Long Island Sound, Mr. Webb said.

Museum board member Dick Gillooly, who was along for Saturday’s trip, recalled overnight stay at Bug Light with his family about 11 years ago when his children were teenagers. He remembers being awakened at the break of dawn by seagulls dropping shells on the lighthouse roof.

While his children are now grown, the night spent at Bug Light “is still one of their great memories,” he said.

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