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National Park Service: Fire Island Lighthouse to be closed to assess damage

The Fire Island Lighthouse, seen on Jan. 12,

The Fire Island Lighthouse, seen on Jan. 12, will be temporarily closed for damage assessment. Credit: Danielle Silverman

At a time when the warm weather typically draws more visitors to the Fire Island Lighthouse, park officials said Thursday it once again will have to be closed temporarily, this time for about three weeks, to analyze damage caused over the years.

Tests will be carried out “on the exterior coating to better understand how the building performs structurally, and to determine the cause of ongoing problems including high moisture within the facility, and deterioration of the outer face of brick and shotcrete coating,” the National Park Service said in a release. The shotcrete coating was sprayed on the tower in 1986, Fire Island National Seashore facility manager Jim Dunphy said by telephone.

The tower and the outdoor terrace both will be closed starting Wednesday, not Tuesday as initially scheduled, with scaffolding erected for the $414,000 project, officials said.

However, the Keeper's Quarters Museum, gift shop and Fresnel lens building, which displays the lighthouse's original lens, and is a "visitor high point," Dunphy said, will remain open.

Dunphy described some of the lens building’s attractions: “You can walk right in from the boardwalk and be five feet from this magnificent piece of history.” The lighthouse, in contrast, has 192 steps. “Lots of people don’t want to climb to the top of the tower,” Dunphy said. The site attracted 130,000 visitors last year, officials said.

The lens, an array of rotating glass and brass prisms, was state-of-the art technology that could be seen for 21 nautical miles when it was installed in the current lighthouse 160 years ago, according to the National Park Service.

Light from the first 1826 lighthouse, 74 feet tall and located on the western tip of Fire Island, could be seen about 10 nautical miles, the park service said.

Ocean currents and the wind mainly carry sand west along the Island’s southern coast, so Fire Island then grew several miles closer to New York City. The current 168-foot-tall lighthouse was erected in 1858 to the west of the first one. Jetties built eight or nine decades later helped halt Fire Island’s westward momentum.

Before the second lighthouse was electrified, its lens was shipped to Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute.  It came home in 2007, and the building that houses it opened in 2011.

The new project should help park officials determine how the tower responds to weather during the four seasons, and how to prevent leaks and other problems, Dunphy said.  To capture  such data, workers will install wireless sensors by  rappelling down the tower.

Damaged by superstorm Sandy in 2012, the lighthouse, run by the nonprofit Lighthouse Preservation Society for the National Park Service, has undergone periodic repairs since then. Repair work and recent federal government shutdowns at times have halted tours, which was the case during the latest shutdown that stretched from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, officials said.

Last winter, workers restored the tower steps and watch room ladder, as well as floors in the Keeper's Quarters Museum and gift shop.

The year before that, a $1.2 million project shored up the lighthouse terrace and its underpinnings, weakened by Sandy, the Park Service said.

The upgrades also strengthened the terrace substructure, repaired parts of the exterior brick wall, reset the Connecticut Bluestone terrace pavers, improved drainage and made the entranceway safer, the agency said.

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