Eldred Rock Lighthouse is one step closer to becoming a landmark that the public can visit

Eldred Rock. (Wikimedia Commons image by Ryan Harvey, Flickr, Alaska Cruise 2008)

Alaska’s oldest lighthouse is one step closer to being open to the public.

The Eldred Rock Lighthouse Preservation Association secured a necessary grant on their quest to lease the remote island property just south of Haines.

Anyone who sets foot on Eldred Rock right now is technically trespassing on federal property.

But Executive Director Sue York and the Haines-based Eldred Rock Lighthouse Preservation Association are working to change that.

“This lease is within striking distance,” York said. “This is the first step in the rehabilitation of the lighthouse.”

The $1,550 grant they were awarded this month is a watershed moment in their mission to open the historical site to the public.

It isn’t easy to lease property with historic, derelict buildings from the U.S. Coast Guard. But the money from Anchorage-based non-profit Alaska Association of Historical Places will pay for a historic structures report. It’s a prerequisite to the lease that York hopes to sign before the end of the year.

“It’s basically a report from an architect that goes room by room, building by building, and says what needs repair. It’s all based on standards for historic property,” York said.

Eldred Rock Lighthouse is the only remaining octagonal lighthouse in the state. In recent years, it has been named among Alaska’s top-10 most endangered historic places.

Alaska Association of Historic Places President Trish Neal says restoring the building is a worthy cause.

“If we don’t preserve what we have now, from years ago, we’re not going to have this for (the) future,” said Neal. “The purpose of the list is to bring public awareness to Alaska’s architectural and cultural treasures that are being threatened.”

The Eldred Rock Historic Lighthouse Association in Haines wants the site in good enough condition that the Coast Guard could eventually give it to them to operate. There’s precedent for that.

But the Coast Guard can’t turn it over until they fix hazardous conditions like crumbling buildings, lead paint and asbestos on the site.

York said the process could take years. She used to work for the Coast Guard and said they would be remiss in prioritizing a historic building above their mission to ensure maritime safety.

But the Eldred Rock Historic Lighthouse Association has a long-term goal.

“Eventually, after rehabilitating and establishing a safe environment for visitors on the island, our goal is to really set up a museum, make it a public, share it with the public,” she said.

So the historic structures report is the first small step.

And though it may not be open to visitors for awhile, the Eldred Rock light stays on each night in the Lynn Canal.

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