TREMONT — The scenic beauty of the Bass Harbor Head Light has been captured on an America the Beautiful quarter, an Acadia National Park centennial postage stamp and in thousands of professional and amateur photographs. Now, the keeper’s house at the iconic 159-year-old lighthouse could become a vacation rental under one use being considered by the National Park Service.
Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider and Management Assistant John Kelly met with Tremont selectmen Monday to discuss the transfer of the lighthouse property to the park from the current owner, the U.S. Coast Guard. The property transfer had been under consideration but now is a certainty.
“We’re going to take possession of the lighthouse,” Schneider told the board. “We have made that decision.”
The lighthouse property, which lies within the boundaries of Tremont, has been administered by the Coast Guard and consists of 2.5 acres completely surrounded by Acadia National Park land. About 180,000 people visit the facility and surrounding grounds annually, making it the fifth-most-visited location in the park. Many visitors are unaware of the Coast Guard’s role, Schneider said.
“They really see it as Acadia National Park and don’t make the distinction,” he said.
The Coast Guard’s need for the property has been diminished, and the General Services Administration has been considering how to dispose of the lighthouse. The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act allows the transfer of the lighthouse to the National Park Service. The Coast Guard is to continue to have access for maintaining the automated light as a navigational aid.
Schneider said the park is fully aware of the high cost of maintaining the property.
“Lighthouses as a matter of rule are not cheap to own and maintain,” he said.
As a result, he continued, the park is looking at several options that would generate revenue.
One is as a vacation rental. The 1,600-square-foot keeper’s house has two bedrooms and one bathroom. On Tuesday, Kelly said the house, until several years ago, was the home of the commander of the Southwest Harbor Coast Guard base. It remains in good condition.
“It’s usable as a residence,” Kelly said, adding that it is unclear what improvements would need to be made for use as a rental.
A number of lighthouses in Maine already offer vacation accommodations. These are either in private hands or owned by private nonprofit organizations, Kelly said. In examples given as part of the presentation to selectmen, prices range from $195 to $400 per night. According to Schneider, this option could fully fund the cost of maintaining and operating the site.
Using the lighthouse as a bookstore or other retail shop also is under consideration. A coffee shop or café is another, but with these types of use, there would be less turnover of parking space and the current 27 spaces would not be adequate, Schneider said, adding that there might be restrictions prohibiting expanding the lot.
Park officials are looking at solutions to the parking dilemma that include some sort of shuttle service into the site.
Another decision facing park officials is how the site would be managed. Four options are under consideration.
The property could be operated by park staff or by a contracted service provider. It could be assigned to a nonprofit “partner” under an agreement. An agreement also could be extended to a concessioner. Finally, the property could be leased to a private party.
The park also might take a completely different tack with the property and use the keeper’s house for employee housing, which Schneider told selectmen is sorely needed.
Along with the keeper’s house, the property consists of the light tower and a number of small outbuildings.
Interpretive and educational programs at the historic lighthouse are “definitely part of the future,” Kelly said.