ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Dexter Lee, Swans Island’s representative on the Acadia Advisory Commission, has urged park officials to look very hard at the cost of maintaining the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse before accepting the U.S. Coast Guard’s offer to give it to the park.
Lee said at the Advisory Commission meeting on Monday that, based on his experience with the Burnt Cove Harbor Light on Swans Island, “You’re inheriting a maintenance nightmare. I guess I have no problem with the park doing that, as long as they go into it with their eyes wide open.”
Under the deal that’s been offered, the Coast Guard would continue to maintain the light itself as an aid to navigation, but the light tower, the lightkeeper’s house and its 2.5 acres of land would go to the park. The property at the southern tip of Mount Desert Island is surrounded by park land.
“We are trying to fully understand the operation and management costs,” Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said. “We have to be mindful that sometimes historic buildings are not inexpensive to operate.”
He noted that the lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It may be eligible for an even greater listing as a National Landmark,” he said. “From our mission standpoint, we have a very strong interest in making sure it stays preserved as a cultural resource. The Bass Harbor Head Light absolutely fits right in with Acadia National Park’s fundamental resources and values.”
Schneider said it probably is a positive that the commander of the Coast Guard station in Southwest Harbor lived in the lightkeeper’s house until a couple of years ago.
“Anytime historic buildings are used, they are preserved,” he said. “We know that those that don’t get used fall into disrepair very quickly.”
Schneider told the Advisory Commission that park officials want to explore possibilities for offsetting some of the cost of maintaining and operating the lighthouse.
“I don’t know what that might look like, but we want to see if there is a way,” he said.
Schneider said the lighthouse, which most people think is already part of Acadia, is one of the most popular visitor destinations on Mount Desert Island. The prime viewing area for the lighthouse, from which most photos are taken, is on park property.
“It is a crucial part of the fabric of the visitor experience,” Schneider said.
The lighthouse parking lot, which can accommodate only about 22 vehicles and often fills to overflowing, could be a factor in deciding how the park might use the property.
Schneider said he would continue to share information and seek public input on whether the park should accept the lighthouse property and, if so, how to use it. He mentioned, especially, wanting to talk with elected officials and others in Tremont, which is the municipality in which the lighthouse property is located.
If the park turns down the lighthouse offer, the federal General Services Administration could put it up for auction.
The Acadia Advisory Commission passed a resolution encouraging the park to “continue to explore the acquisition of the Bass Harbor Head land.”