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Summer Adventures: Execution Rocks

Guests walk the grounds of the Execution Rock

Guests walk the grounds of the Execution Rock lighthouse. About two doezen people from as far away as New Jersey came to Port Washington to take a tour, guided by Craig Morrison, of the Execution Rock Lighthouse on the Long Island Sound. (July 16, 2011) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

A trip to Execution Rocks, like a visit to the Montauk or Fire Island lighthouses, gives the kind of spectacular 360-degree panorama you see in an IMAX movie.

Nathalie Ramirez, 26, of Port Washington, was among 20 people who took a three-hour tour to the lighthouse in Sands Point on Long Island Sound on a recent sunny Saturday. With her friend, Paul Berg, 48, also of Port Washington, she climbed the 72-foot tower and enjoyed sweeping views of Gold Coast mansions, the Throgs Neck Bridge and -- shrouded in mist -- the Manhattan skyline.

"It was everything I'd hoped it would be," she said.

Island in the Sound

A number of visitors, like Ramirez, had boated past Execution Rocks but never set foot on the island.

"I've been trying to get to this island for years," said William Trottier, 62, of Roslyn Heights, a retired police officer.

Although not exactly Gilligan's Island, Execution Rocks feels remote. A 47-foot Crosby Touring Tug piloted by Matt Meyran, owner of Port Washington Water Taxi, provided a scenic 45-minute ride from the North Hempstead Town Dock in Port Washington, through Manhasset Bay.

"We've got a nice, calm day, so enjoy it," Meyran said as the tug passed moored sailboats and Gold Coast mansions.

The lighthouse, with its brown-ringed white tower, came into view as the boat rounded Sands Point.

A 'work in progress'

After the tug tied up at the small dock, visitors scrambled up a metal ladder. You can walk around the rocks, where seagulls lay eggs. A newborn cormorant waddled around on the cement platform surrounding the lighthouse.

Built around 1850, the lighthouse has no concession stand or bathrooms. Although the tower's exterior is brightly painted, inside the keeper's quarters are gutted, with peeling walls. And seagulls constantly leave their mark on the rocks, with the attendant odor.

"We have a ton of work to do," said Craig Morrison, president of Historically Significant Structures Inc., who came along for the ride. Two years ago, the federal government gave Execution Rocks to the Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization. The lighthouse and its three-bedroom keepers quarters (built in 1867) are being restored with a $600,000 matching grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Fifty dollars of the $75 tour fee is a donation to the restoration project, he said. Morrison said that once the restoration is complete, in addition to offering tower tours, he wants to open a bed-and-breakfast on the island for overnight stays.

A lighthouse challenge

Getting to the observation deck can be a challenge. You need to climb steel stairways, then a ladder to angle through a small access door.

"It's not easy getting up there," Geri Pattison said.

She and her husband, Tom, both 56, of Farmingdale, had climbed the lighthouse towers in Montauk and Fire Island. But she felt this visit was worthwhile.

Pattison said, "I like being out on the water and learning about the history behind them."

Execution Rocks Lighthouse Tour

WHEN | WHERE 9:30 a.m. Aug. 7 and 27, Sept. 11 and 24, boat leaves from North Hempstead Town Dock, Port Washington. Reservations required.

INFO 215-906-5103, lighthouserestorations.org

ADMISSION $75

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