Maine’s lighthouses have guided mariners to safe harbors for more than 200 years. Now, the U.S. Coast Guard along with the Maine Office of Tourism and the American Lighthouse Foundation hope they will be a beacon to Maine residents and visitors alike.
The three groups have joined forces to sponsor the first Maine Open Lighthouse Day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12. They will open 29 of Maine’s lighthouses to the public while, at the same time, crews from the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Auxiliary work to photograph and survey the structures.
The Coast Guard has had a presence in Maine since the first Maine lighthouse — Portland Head Light — was activated in 1791. For more than 200 years, the Coast Guard has been the guardian of the state’s lighthouses. The Coast Guard no longer owns all of the lighthouses in Maine; some have been turned over to municipali-ties, nonprofit organizations and individuals, although the Coast Guard still maintains the lights on those that remain active.
Saturday’s open house event is an opportunity to celebrate that history, according to Ensign Terence Leahey, the Coast Guard’s project manager for the event.
“We’re still custodians of the light, and we’re still interested in seeing that they are maintained and accessible to the public,” Leahey said Wednesday. “To open [the lighthouses] to the public on one single day is a good event to promote the lighthouses, the history of the Coast Guard and Maine and to generate tourism in those areas.”
Gov. John Baldacci joined state and Coast Guard officials in June to announce the collaboration and organizers have been working to arrange the details of the event, which they said is the largest event of its kind in the nation.
“We’re hoping it’s going to be a lot of fun for the public,” said Bob Trapani, the executive director of the American Lighthouse Foundation in Rockland.
The Foundation has been working with all the different entities involved with the lighthouses to get the individual lighthouses open.
“It’s been a good effort and it’s exciting to see so many step up and want to be involved,” Trapani said. “Maine is a spectacular place to come to this time of year and this is a great chance to showcase some of our great coastal scenery and to get people excited about lighthouses and our coastal businesses.”
The Maine Office of Tourism has taken a multimedia approach to promote the event, using posters up and down the coast and an e-mail blast to its subscribers. The state also included the Open Lighthouse Day in two freestanding inserts in August, one targeting 350,000 subscribers to the Boston Globe, the other targeting 200,000 readers of the New York Times. In addition, the Maine Office of Tourism has featured all 52 Maine lighthouses on its Web site — one each day as it counted down to Saturday — including a photo and information about each.
Just 29 of the lighthouses will be open to the public for the open house. Some of them are offshore and only accessible by boat. The organizers will not be providing transportation to any of the sites and they caution that the public should use discretion when choosing a lighthouse to visit.
Though they have no hard numbers, both Lyons and Trapani said they have been getting a good response from the promotion.
“It seems like we’ve got some people pretty excited about it,” Trapani said.
Organizers have worked with businesses along the coast to encourage them to offer special lighthouse package deals for lodging and for tours of lighthouses.
According to Lyons, the event has the potential to generate some economic benefits for the state and its businesses.
“We may get people who might not have come to Maine for a day, but will come for an event to attend,” he said. “They’re going to go to the lighthouses, but they may also spend some money — have lunch or dinner, shop, maybe stay overnight.”
For more information on the Maine Open Lighthouse Day, check www.LighthouseDay.com