June 25, 2018
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‘Working vacation’: Florida couple volunteer to be lighthouse keepers in Cutler

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
The Little River Light and the former lightkeeper's house on Little River Island in Cutler. The structures have been restored by the volunteers from the American Lighthouse Foundation and the Friends of Little River Lighthouse.
By Kari C. Barlow, Northwest Florida Daily News

NICEVILLE, Fla. — Marilyn Turk has never packed for a summer vacation quite like the one she will take in July.

Turk and her husband, Chuck, have volunteered to be lighthouse keepers for 11 days in Cutler, Maine.

“It’s a vacation, but it’s a working vacation,” she said. “We don’t get paid.”

These days Turk is busy making mental lists that include everything from flashlights and bug spray to her computer and binoculars.

The Turks will fly to Maine and spend about three days in Bar Harbor, or “civilization” as Turk calls it, before heading to Cutler. From there, they will board a boat and make their way to the mostly wooded Little River Island.

“When it’s not foggy, you can see a lighthouse on another island that’s in Canada,” she said. “So that’s how far north it is.”

The first lighthouse on Little River Island was built in 1847. The one that sits in a grassy clearing on the island today was built in 1876 and is now automated.

Turk, who is a writer, always has been drawn to the history and charm of lighthouses.

“There’s a mystique about them, a curiosity,” she said. “They just seem to be a symbol of strength and for many they were symbols of hope.”

Little River Island sits at the mouth of the Little River on the Atlantic Ocean.

“It’s pretty remote,” Turk said. “You have to keep a marine phone or something with you at all times so you can be reached.”

Next to the lighthouse is a small two-story keeper’s cottage — equipped with electricity and running water — with bedrooms that can be rented out by tourists. As keepers, the Turks will be on duty around the clock with one day off.

“You keep it clean. You mow the grass, do maintenance,” she said. “There are occasional visitors.”

Many of the visitors reach the island in kayaks.

While there, Turk plans to relax and post updates on her blog, www.pathwayheart.com. She especially is looking forward to a town-wide church service that will be held on the island while they are serving as keepers.

When Turk discovered Little River Lighthouse and its volunteer keeper program, she got excited but figured it was a long shot.

“I found out about it and thought it would be fun to stay there,” she said. “My husband and I said, ‘We’ll put that on our bucket list, one of those someday things.’ ”

Then they completed the application process and were accepted.

“You have to be in good physical condition and someone has to be able to drive a boat,” she said. “Also, one of the rules is you have to understand tides.”

The timing is good for the Niceville couple because Chuck retired from his engineering job last fall. They’re both eager to explore the lighthouse and the 5-acre island.

“It’s going to be quite an adventure,” Turk said.

Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari C. Barlow at 850-315-4438 or kbarlow@nwfdailynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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