It’s lighthouse-hunting season on Long Island, and you can launch into this increasingly popular hobby at one of the Island’s most remote and scenic recreational areas: Orient Beach State Park near the tip of the North Fork.
With binoculars and a $14 “passport” booklet purchased at the park gift shop, sightings of a handful of historic lighthouses can be recorded at the 363-acre park on Gardiners Bay. An outdoor map pinpoints spots along the shoreline where these historic aids to navigation are visible in the distance, either with binoculars or the naked eye. Hobbyists can collect commemorative stamps and badges issued by the U.S. Lighthouse Society.
“On a walk you can see four lighthouses, which is outstanding,” says East End lighthouse historian Bob Allen, of Greenport, who has collected about 30 stamps for lighthouses from California to Maine.
Lighthouse-hunting is a growing national hobby, according to officials of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, of Hansville, Washington, which sponsors the passport program. The society sells approximately 10,000 lighthouse passports annually, says executive director Jeff Gales. “It’s an entry-level, fun way to get interested in lighthouse preservation,” he says.
About 25 passports and hundreds of commemorative stamps have been sold at the Orient Beach gift shop since the program began two years ago, says park supervisor William Bohach.
“With all the lighthouses along the coast, it brings you to spots you’ve never seen before,” Bohach says of the passport program. “The lighthouse settings are just stunning,” Bohach adds. “They take you back to an earlier time and the romance of the sea.”
LI’S MANY BEACONS
There are 18 lighthouses along Long Island’s coast, Allen says. The best known include the Fire Island Lighthouse and Montauk Point Lighthouse, built in 1796, the oldest lighthouse in New York State. Many more of these structures, which date mostly from the 19th century, are scattered along the coastline or just offshore.
The Town of Southold alone is near eight lighthouses — the most in any township in the United States, Allen says. He’s the great-grandson of a former lightkeeper at two beacons visible with binoculars from the Orient Beach State Park parking lot: the Cedar Island Light off East Hampton and the Long Beach Bar “Bug Light” Lighthouse off Orient. The Bug Light — so-named because of its odd shape — can also be seen up close from the shore after a two-mile hike on the beach. In addition, The Plum Island and Orient Point light stations are visible from the park entrance drive. For extra help, detailed scale models of the Plum Island, Orient Point and Long Beach Bar light are displayed on the lawn at the park entrance.
The other Southold lighthouses include Horton Point, perched atop a rocky bluff overlooking Long Island Sound (Open 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends Memorial Day through Columbus Day, $5 to $10). Latimer Reef, Little Gull Island, Race Rock and North Dumpling lights, near Fishers Island can be seen (and stamps earned) aboard two-hour Cross Sound Ferry cruises departing from New London, Connecticut. (631-323-2525, longislandferry.com, $15 to $30).
To get credit for seeing or touring a lighthouse, purchase a $1 stamp at a lighthouse passport location. The money is donated to a not-for-profit lighthouse preservation fund.
Lighthouse enthusiasts can join the society’s free Passport Club (register online at uslhs.org/fun/passport-club) to redeem completed booklets for “I’ve seen the light” commemorative patches and an “I Brake for Lighthouses” bumper sticker.
Orient Point Lighthouse
WHEN | WHERE 8 a.m. to sunset daily at Orient Beach State Park, 40000 Main Rd., Orient.
INFO 631-323-2440, parks.ny.gov
ADMISSION $10 per vehicle through Labor Day ($8 per vehicle weekends and holidays, Sept. 8 to Columbus Day)
Bug Light Cruise and Tour
To see how a Long Island lighthouse keeper lived (and collect a passport stamp), cruise to the Bug Light with The East End Seaport Museum in Greenport. Passengers can debark on the tiny island, walk around the first-floor living quarters and second-floor bedroom and stroll the tower deck for a 360-degree keeper’s view. “The passengers like to ring the bell in front of the upper deck for good luck,” says Allen, who narrates Saturday cruises. Cruises leave on Wednesdays at 10 a.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at noon from Greenport’s railroad dock just south of the museum on Third Street, Greenport.
INFO 631-477-2100, eastendseaport.org
TICKETS $39 ($19 ages 3 to 15)