The Curry Coastal Pilot

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. andndash;Those who looked through a high-powered

telescope toward St. George Reef Lighthouse southwest of Brookings on

Feb. 27, might have glimpsed mammals not observed there in several

years andndash; people.

After three years away from the North Coast icon, members of the St.

George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society arrived by helicopter to

find most things as they left them, with a few surprises.

"The galley window was broken out andhellip; but the sleeping bags were dry

and even smelled fresh," said Preservation Society work coordinator

Terry McNamara.

Two stories below the broken galley window, at the base of the

tower, equipment weighing in excess of 10,000 pounds had shifted

several feet across the base of the lighthouse and a large concrete

slab covering a ventilation shaft was broken in two, presumably by

winter swells that the lighthouse, seven miles off the coast of

Crescent City, has endured since its lens was lit Oct. 20, 1892.

A certain amount of winter damage is expected and the last few years

have nothing on 1952, when a wave actually broke a window in the

lantern room 145 feet above sea level and sent water cascading down the

tower steps.

Holding court in the engine room, his hand on a steel girder supporting untold tons of granite block above him, society member Jim McLaughlin also talked about the bad and good news that awaited their arrival.

"After a bit of work we got the engine on the generator started up," he said, but double doors leading to a perilous stairway to the rock below had been blown open. That, combined with leaking from the ceiling, had flooded the engine room with saltwater.

Ninety-six stairs up from McLaughlin and the work in the engine room, Guy Towers was a man in his element, his excitement on his return to the lighthouse plainly visible on his face as he talked with visitors about the history of the beacon. Speaking from his home Thursday, the excitement was still there.

"It was a great relief to begin work again andhellip; I was delighted," said Towers, listing last weekend's accomplishments like a proud father.

Perhaps the most visible change to the casual observer was the new coat of paint in two of the crew member cabins. The stark white walls stood out in contrast to layers upon layers of paint that can be seen in various stages of peeling in almost every room of the lighthouse.

"They must have painted it every day," said Towers, speaking of the paint layers left from the years the Coast Guard inhabited the lighthouse. It's the first time the rooms have been painted since the Coast Guard abandoned the lighthouse in 1975, leaving the coffee pot on the stove.

The painted rooms and laundry list of other accomplishments represent another step toward the preservation society's ultimate goal: "To make this place look like it did before it was deactivated andhellip; recognizing both areas of service, the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the Coast Guard," Towers said. He estimates that will take as much as three years and cost thousands of dollars.

The lighthouse tours and donations of goods and services are the primary source of the society's funding, and last Sunday morning 25 tourists arrived by helicopter on the island once dubbed the "Dragon Rocks" by explorer George Vancouver.

By early afternoon the tours were in full swing with groups traveling up and down the structure, cameras clutched in their hands and smiles on their faces. One visitor was local business owner Matt Kime, who summed it up from his store, Custom Dezign Graphics, Thursday afternoon: "It was awesome."

People interested in seeing for themselves what $752,000 of their ancestors' tax dollars bought have one more opportunity this year.

Another tour is planned in April and seats are still available, call Guy Towers at (707) 464-8299 for information about tours or contributing to the restoration work.