The future of Ocracoke Lighthouse, the second-oldest operating lighthouse in the United States, is in peril due to rising tides and damage done to the structure during the annual storm season.
The lighthouse opened in 1823 to help guide ships through the tricky waters of the Ocracoke Inlet off the coast of North Carolina.
The entire Ocracoke Light Station sits just 2 feet above sea level, and officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believe that number will reach zero in the next two decades. During Hurricane Dorian in 2019, water covered the bottom seven feet of the lighthouse and heavily damaged the keeper’s quarters.
“The writing’s on the wall. The tides keep getting higher,” Amy Howard, chair of the Ocracoke Tourism Development Authority, told The Virginian-Pilot.
In an effort to save the structure, the National Parks Service (NPS) is seeking input on what to do.
Suggestions range from repairing the lighthouse and raising the keeper’s quarters to the extreme measure of partially dismantling the lighthouse, moving it to higher ground, and reassembling the structure.
“We’re putting everything on the table,” said Dave Hallac, NPS superintendent for Eastern North Carolina.
A number of factors will go into the final decision, including public input, logistics, and cost, which could run into the millions.
That’s quite a difference from the original cost. Budgeted at $20,000 at the time, workers actually completed the lighthouse and separate keeper’s house for just $11,359.
The lighthouse stands about 75 feet tall with solid brick walls, starting at 5 feet thick at the base and tapering to 2 feet at the top. The tower features an octagonal lantern and light beacon at its top.
Visitors can take in the lighthouse, although it is not open for climbing.
The final decision on what will be done is at least a year away, according to officials. The NPS is holding a series of public meetings to field input, and citizens are also encouraged to submit public comments.
The next phase will include making sure any options comply with the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other environmental regulations.
“This project is more than the lighthouse itself. It’s about the light station” Hallac said.
Editor’s Note: While we’re on the subject, you should know the federal government is offering lighthouses from its inventory free of charge. Learn more — including who can hop in line to get them — here.