After a windy climb up the darkened stairs of the Fire Island Lighthouse, Dave Griese enters the glass-enclosed top where two large beacons of light swirl around in constant motion.
As the administrator and lightkeeper for the past five years, it's his job to make sure everything is working all right at the familiar, iconic structure, visited each year by 130,000, including many Long Island schoolchildren.
The lighthouse is more than 150 years old and is run by the nonprofit Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society for the U.S. Park Service. Its two intense 1,000-watt bulbs rotate and flash beams in 71/2-second intervals, to distances of more than 20 miles out to sea and across the Great South Bay.
"Historically, the lighthouse was probably the first light that immigrants saw as they came into New York Harbor," he explains.
These days, the faces of fourth-graders (when most schools make the day trip) are filled with wonderment when they reach the top of the 168-foot-tower. "Once they get up there, it's just a sight to be seen," says Griese. "That sight of the Atlantic Ocean and how immense it is, how thin Fire Island is, and how long Long Island is."