Q: What is tall, stately, and often found atop a rocky shore that gets pounded by waves? A: A lighthouse!
Lighthouses dot the Pacific Northwest coastline and shores of Puget Sound. Most were constructed as navigational aides for ships at sea in the late 1800s. For nearly a century, these lighthouses were manned by lighthouse keepers to tend to the lighthouse, replenish fuel, trim the wicks and so forth. But no more; all are automated now. Still, a few lighthouses host keepers to tend to the grounds, greet visitors and give tours.
One such lighthouse is the New Dungeness Lighthouse near Sequim on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The lighthouse sits perches near the end of Dungeness Spit, a 5.5 mile-long sinewy sand spit–the longest natural sand spit in the United States. Thousands of people hike the spit each year, and many make it all the way to the lighthouse. Those in the know carry binoculars, because Dungeness Spit is a National Wildlife Refuge and a haven to more than 250 species of birds. Sightings of whales and other marine mammals are common.
I really like the idea of doing this as a family sometime in the next few years, maybe when my son gets a little older. What an opportunity to teach children the value of a historic place, the importance of civic engagement, and the responsibility of being caretakers for a piece of history.
Our experiences staying as Keepers at New Dungeness Light Station have been unbelievable. This house, over 100 years old, is in excellent condition with all the comforts of home. As lighthouse keepers, we have a few duties that are to be performed each day. They include raising and lowering the flag, giving tours up the tower and sharing the history of the Light Station with visitors, cleaning the brass and windows in the lantern room, watering the grass, and cleaning the public restroom at the end of the day. The beauty of the sunrises and sunsets, along with the flora and fauna, are some of the ways keepers are rewarded for their efforts.
How to be a Lighthouse Keeper
The New Dungeness Light Station has been continuously staffed 24 hours a day since 1994 by volunteer Lighthouse Keepers who serve one-week shifts.
To be a lighthouse keeper you have to first become a dues-paying member of the New Dungeness Lighthouse Association. Annual dues are $35 per individual or $50 per household.
After you have joined the association, check here for lighthouse availability. (As I write this, there are four weeks available for the reminder of 2012: two weeks available in October and two in December.) If you see available dates that interest you, call the lighthouse Scheduling Services at (360) 683-6638 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Lighthouse keepers pay a fee for the week – it is $350 per person for adults 18 and over, and $195 per child.
What to Expect as a Lighthouse Keeper
Lighthouse keepers get transported in a jeep the 5 miles out to the light station. Transport day is usually Saturday at low tide, which sometimes occurs in the middle of the night. (By the way, little details like the possibility of taking a midnight ride in a jeep down a slim sand spit just make the whole thing all the more intriguing, don’t you agree?)
More About the New Dungeness Lighthouse
The New Dungeness Light Station is one of the oldest lighthouse in the Northwest, providing navigational aid since 1857. The Keeper’s Quarters is a large house with three main bedrooms, two with queen size beds and one with a queen and a twin. There is also a bedroom in the basement with two twin beds. Maximum capacity is 7 people. The house has a fully-equipped kitchen, formal dining room, living room, and two bathrooms. In the basement are a recreation room with a pool/ping pong table, laundry facilities and storage. This slideshow has plenty of pictures of the Keeper’s Quarters.
Other Lighthouses in Washington that are Vacation Rentals
Point No Point Lighthouse, Hansville in Kitsap County. You need not volunteer to be a lighthouse keeper here at Point No Point, Puget Sound’s oldest lighthouse. The left half of the lighthouse keeper’s quarters is available as a vacation rental where you can spend one night, a weekend, or an entire vacation on one of the most scenic beaches in the state. Spot dozens of species of birds from your front door, go beach combing, or just curl up on the porch to read a good book with the sound of the waves washing away the stress of the work week.
Point Robinson Lighthouse on Vashon/Maury Island. Be a keeper at Pt. Robinson for a weekend or week-long stay in one of the two renovated keepers’ quarters. The two residences share the beach with the lighthouse and other features of the historic light station. Both residences are available for weekly rental through the year and offer groups of up to six adults a wonderful way to enjoy the beach, the Sound and the islands of Vashon and Maury.
Browns Point Lighthouse near Tacoma. Rent this 3-bedroom historic lighhouse keepers’ cottage on the shores of Puget Sound. Sit back and watch sailboats, walk on the beach, or fish right from the shore. Sunsets are stunning here from porch in antique rocking chairs. The cottage is available for weekly rentals, and the resident keepers are required to conduct tours and perform daily chores.
North Head Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment State Park in Ilwaco. At one of the Northwest’s most important lighthouses, three separate residences are available as vacation rentals, each offering stunning ocean views and 1800’s flavor.
Guardians of the Lights: Stories of US Lighthouse Keepers by Elinor De Wire. The stories of heroism and fortitude of the men and women of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, who kept vital shipping lanes safe from 1716 until the early 20th century. The daily work of a lighthouse keeper is never boring as they cope with fog, storms, and other catastrophes while maintaining their family lives, often in very remote locations.