October 24, 2018
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Acadia to assume ownership of iconic Bass Harbor lighthouse

Micky Bedell | BDN
Micky Bedell | BDN
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

The U.S. Coast Guard is negotiating a transfer of ownership of Tremont’s historic Bass Harbor Head Light to Acadia National Park.

The National Park Service recently agreed to assume ownership of the lighthouse. The deal, which should be done within a year, will not involve money. The agreement stipulates that the lighthouse remains a functional navigational aid and possibly serve as a retail outlet, such as a bookstore or coffee shop.

Mount Desert Island’s only lighthouse, Head Light, is among Acadia’s top five tourist attractions. Then-President Barack Obama and the first family visited it in 2010. Like many lighthouses, Head Light has a global collection of passionate fans, park spokeswoman Christie Anastasia said.

“People don’t go to lighthouses. They make pilgrimages,” Anastasia said Tuesday. “It is very iconic.”

The Coast Guard and park service will share operational and maintenance duties as part of the ownership change, said Lt. Cmdr. Karen Kutkiewicz, a Coast Guard public affairs officer.

“The Coast Guard has deemed that it [lighthouse maintenance] is a lot to undertake as a federal government agency and we are seeing that locals are a lot better at maintaining these historic lighthouses,” Kutkiewicz said.

Built of brick in 1858, the lighthouse sits on a stone foundation 56 feet above the mean high water mark at the entrance to Bass Harbor on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island. For years, Coast Guard lighthouse keepers and their families lived in a residence at the site.

Congress passed the National Maritime Heritage Program into law in 1994 to preserve lighthouses and light stations. Since 2000, more than 120 have been preserved.

Officials at Acadia, which already has a deferred maintenance budget backlog of more than $71 million, expect that maintaining the lighthouse will be expensive, Anastasia said. No maintenance figures were available Tuesday or Wednesday.

The lighthouse site is also problematic. Its parking lot is small — it has 27 spaces — and fills quickly on most days. Park service leaders will mold its possible secondary uses with that in mind, Anastasia said.

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