St. Petersburg group raises funds for long-term maintenance of historic Southeast Lighthouse

Humpback whales are a common sight of the light at Five Finger. (Joe Viechnicki / KFSK)

It’s a rare blue sky day between the mid-September fall storms at the Five Finger Lighthouse. Just over 40 miles north of Petersburg, the light lingers on a windswept, salt spray rock on the Inside Passage where Stephen’s Passage meets Frederick Sound. Humpback whales forage offshore, fattening for the long journey to Hawaii while sandhill cranes have already started their southward migration.

Today, it’s not just sounds on the island.

A side view of the historic building from 1935 (Joe Viechnicki / KFSK)

A task force for the Five Finger Lighthouse Society tackles a list of projects, winterizing the building, draining pipes, tidying up equipment, and buttoning windows and doors. Interpretive panels along the trails of the small island are stored until next year.

The company assumed ownership and maintenance of the light. For years, an organization based in Juneau has been doing this work. Now this group of Petersburg residents are putting more shingles on a new roof for the boathouse. The old one exploded last winter. They also run a troublesome generator.

“It looks pretty good. The roofing project still has a long way to go, ”said Josef Quitslund, one of the volunteers. He went to the far place several times.

“Well, it’s hard to get here,” Quitslund said. “I’ve only been here in calm weather, but what’s really cool is that it’s in the middle of everything. You know there is so much life here with whales swimming along the shore and seals and birds everywhere. It has its own unique little critter biosphere here. “

In addition to being far from other places, the island is a difficult place to disembark. Anchoring nearby is difficult. There are a few places to tie boats to the rock when the tides and waves cooperate. There is a rusty ladder that climbs steep rocky and rocky stairs to a ramp.

A work team from the lighthouse company attaches itself for the day to Five Finger. (Joe Viechnicki / KFSK)

“You can also see that there have been efforts to be able to increase security around access,” said Eric Castro, member of the board of directors of the company. “It’s one of the major challenges that still exists, it’s really getting to the island. So even though there are hundreds of people passing by, this transit through this island, entering the island is one of the main obstacles. “

Names of the last Coast Guard crew to live in light all year round. (Joe Viechnicki / KFSK)

The lighthouse building dates from 1935, built in the art deco style. It replaced the one completed in 1902 which burned to the ground in 1933. The light is now automated. The last Coast Guard crew to live there year-round left their name in the building’s basement in 1984.

It’s peaceful here between the storms. But the proof of the harsh conditions is everywhere. The salty air rusted a horseshoe on the almost secluded store building. Inside the light itself, someone built a system of interior gutters to displace the constant rain.

Board member Karen Dillman said there has been a lighthouse keeper on site for the past two summers and the group has also scheduled someone for part of next year. She hopes a local fundraising effort will help the company secure grants.

“I think the main focus is really to tap into other grants that really like to catapult the whole process into a whole different area, just because of the energy situation, the solar polar, the access, these are important parts, if you want more people to come forward and use it as a retreat, ”Dillman said.

Lighthouse keepers greet visitors on passing boats while the structure is open, usually at least part of the time between May and September. The light has also housed whale research and even yoga sessions for cruise ship passengers.

Solar panels help power the light. (Joe Viechnicki / KFSK)

The owners hope it could be a destination again.

“You know you have to have the right person, the right group of people who can come here knowing that they could be left here for a week or more both because of bad weather and just the inability to do it. off the island. So you need a certain type of grain, ”Castro said.

“Courage and flexibility, right? Adds Dillman. “You don’t want to have a plane to catch tomorrow and come here the day before or something like that because that might change,” she said.

In addition to fixing things that break, the company has a list of things that would make the island more livable, such as a new battery bank to store energy for solar panels and a better access ramp.

The living room with a light painting discovered during old renovations. (Joe Viechnicki / KFSK)

The company has solicited donations from artists and an online auction is underway. The company has canceled its in-person auction due to COVID cases. The online auction now has a closing date of October 31. The works of art will be on display at the Clausen Museum from October 4 to 15.

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