Lighthouse beacon not just for mariners

One of the reminders of the specialness of this place where I live is the New Dungeness Light Station.

Perhaps lighthouses are not really rare. I guess that neither are mountains rare, but when you place the lighthouse on a narrow sand spit between the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains, it becomes rare. And those of us living here are likewise squeezed between the sometimes angry waters of the strait and the rocky, steep mountains to the south.

The fact that the light station has survived more than 150 years in a challenging situation is a tribute to a whole lot of folks. More importantly, the lighthouse itself has allowed the area around it to become a major population center by ensuring a safe route from the Pacific Ocean into Puget Sound.

In 1994, the U.S. Coast Guard withdrew its last keeper from the automated light and planned to board up the buildings. A local group of citizens stepped in and was given a renewable license to protect, preserve and maintain the station. Since Sept. 3, 1994, the New Dungeness Light Station Association has welcomed approximately 5,000 visitors each year.

I'm a sort of lighthouse nut. While I lived on the East Coast, I visited every lighthouse I could. As I traveled around the world, I also sought out lighthouses to visit. Many of the lighthouses that I saw were in pretty poor condition. Not so the New Dungeness Light.

There are still some folks in Sequim who don't know that there's a lighthouse nearby ... thankfully not many. I have been on the board of directors of the Lighthouse Association and I have volunteered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 10 years.

A lighthouse in the middle of a wildlife refuge is unusual, but in a way it's a perfect arrangement. The land and the animals are protected by one group of volunteers while a second group protects the buildings, technology and way of life of the keepers.

We attract visitors from all over the world. Sometimes I think that we get better press in some foreign countries than we get in our own county.

It's true, it's a challenge to get out to the lighthouse. Check your tide tables for a low or minus tide and begin your walk a few hours before the lowest tide. It's doable, and I've seen grandparents and the grandchildren both make it out and back. I've seen seals, orcas, all kinds of birds and even a coyote and deer out there. You never know who might show up.

Richard Olmer can be reached at columnists@

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