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US Lighthouses Seek Brighter Future

Lighthouses are remnants from the past that ships and sailors once sought in order to navigate treacherous, U.S. coastal waters. But today, those that still remain have fallen mostly into disuse, except as tourist attractions and quaint reminders of a romantic era. VOA's Robert Raffaele narrates.

If you were a sailor before the invention of modern navigational equipment, lighthouses were treasured beacons for wandering seafarers. They once dotted U.S. coastlines. But with advances in navigation equipment, lighthouses have become obsolete and many are no longer used for navigational purposes by major shipping traffic. Many lighthouses are threatened by changes in geography due to erosion, natural disasters, vandalized, or are in desperate need of repair.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Lighthouse Society say there are about 600 lighthouses remaining in the U.S., and some of those are at risk. Pounded by both the elements and years of neglect, many of the remaining lighthouses are long past their prime.

Dave Eshbaugh, of the Oregon State Parks Trust, believes in preserving them. "They are worth saving. I think it would be disrespectful to our history and people who put their lives on the line to let them fall down and go away or be forgotten."

Preservation societies in several states are attempting to keep lighthouses from disappearing altogether. And the U.S. Congress is trying to help. In 2000, lawmakers passed the Lighthouse Preservation Act that lets the Coast Guard transfer ownership of lighthouses, at no cost, to public and private organizations. Local, state and federal agencies also can benefit from the act.

Some private citizens also are helping to restore abandoned lighthouses. Steve and Michelle Bursey in Heceta Oregon own the Heceta Head Lighthouse. It is not just their home, but also their livelihood.

Not far from the lighthouse is the lighthouse keeper's house. The Burseys have converted it into a bed and breakfast inn. They say the income from their business pays for the necessary repairs that keep the lighthouse in working condition. Michelle Bursey says it is a labor of love. "We have to constantly put hours and hours of time and labor into making it shine."

Aside from making Heceta Head their home and business, the Burseys have a great appreciation for the history and the importance associated with their lighthouse.

"It's important to keep them up,” says Steve. “Once they're gone, you can never bring them back."

They are vivid reminders of a bygone era and a way of life that people like Steve and Michelle Bursey think are worth preserving. They are part of America's history, its legend, and its seafaring past.