Lights to go out... temporarily... at Bodie Island and Ocracoke Lighthouses

Lights to go out... temporarily... at Bodie Island and Ocracoke Lighthouses

New Bern, NC – INTRO - Two historic navigational aids for mariners will go dark next month. George Olsen has more.

The Bodie Island and Ocracoke Lighthouses have been on the job for some time both are currently working lighthouses, with the Ocracoke Light, constructed in 1823, the 2nd oldest working lighthouse in the United States. Come July 11th however, the lights at both will go dim for awhile, anyway, to enact repairs, some long needed.

"From the outside you look and say its fine but as you go up towards the lens you've got chicken wire and cables connecting to the balcony to pretty much hold things in place. Four years ago a piece of the balcony support fell so right now we have kind of stabilized that and we're fortunate now that through the stimulus plans we're able to get the 3.5 million to do the restoration."

Doug Stover, the historian for the Outer Banks Group with the National Park Service, discussing the Bodie Island Lighthouse which has been closed to visitors for 15 years. It's the bigger of the two jobs.

"If you take it from the balcony to the lens, that's going to be completely removed. All you'll see is this brick column of a lighthouse. Pretty much the restoration of that includes replacement of the balcony, the rails, the glass of the lens room, the metal roofing, new windows, doors, so it's a complete renovation."

That's why renovation of the Bodie Island Lighthouse will take at least a year, though once complete, Stover says tourists should be able to climb the 156-foot tall structure for the first time since the 1990s. By comparison, repairs to the Ocracoke Lighthouse will be relatively minor. Stover says the Ocracoke Light is structurally sound.

"But this lighthouse, right now is mainly the stairs rust needs to be removed off them, they need to be repainted and that's some of the things we're going to do to the stairs. The windows also have been replaced by the Coast Guard about 20 years ago. They need to be replaced as part of the contract."

It will be the first work there since 1987, with renovations to the Ocracoke Lighthouse expected to be completed inside a six-month period. When that work is done, visitors will again be allowed inside the base of the lighthouse but, as is true now, not to climb because, while there are stairs, in a sense they go nowhere because there's no balcony at the Ocracoke Light. The stairs lead to a hatch open the hatch and you have access to the lens but that area can only accommodate perhaps three people. Stover is particularly excited about the renovation at Bodie Island and what visitors will see when they again can climb the tower.

"Of all lighthouses, because today with all the development around, Bodie Island lighthouse is probably one of the more magical ones. As you climb the lighthouse the landscape, the view, is almost what it would look like if a keeper was there in the 1800s. I mean, you can see the marsh, you can see the ocean, it's wide open landscape."

The Coast Guard will be broadcasting a local notice to mariners that the lights will go out July 11. With today's GPS, the lights aren't technically necessary anymore for maritime traffic but Stover feels the light still has a sentimental if not practical value.

"It's always been there. As they go down the coast, here's Bodie Island, here's Cape Hatteras, here's Ocracoke. Coast Guard always puts it when they head out 13 miles off the coast they still see the small beacon light gives them the sense that's there's still land."

Doug Stover is the historian for the Outer Banks Group of the National Park Service. I'm George Olsen.