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Erosion Threatens Iconic Martha’s Vineyard Lighthouse

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV
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BOSTON (CBS) – For two centuries, the Gay Head Lighthouse has been an iconic symbol of Martha’s Vineyard, and New England’s maritime history.

But now crumbling cliff threatens the very existence of the lighthouse.

Gay Head Lighthouse on Martha's Vineyard.

Gay Head Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard.

“If we don’t save it, it would be a tragedy to let that kind of history fall into the ocean,” said David Nathans of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Now there are efforts to try and move the lighthouse inland. “It needs to move, we think, about 100-150 feet in some direction away from the cliff, and that should be able to protect it for about 100 years,” added Nathans.

Time is of the essence, however. The lighthouse stands about 50 feet from the edge of the cliff, and they are currently losing 2-6 feet of ground each year. The equipment to move the lighthouse requires a 40-foot perimeter. When you do the math, it is easy to see they are almost out of time.

And then there is the cost. It is estimated that it will take three million dollars for this project. Meg Bodnar of www.savethegayheadlighthouse.org is heading up the fundraising effort. She said “We can’t let this structure disappear. It’s part of hundreds of years of history on the island.”

That sense of history is not lost on tourists from around the country who come out to the southwest tip of the island to take pictures, reflect on the panoramic vista, and buy lighthouse memorabilia in the town of Aquinnah.

Adam Young and his family traveled from Chicago. He thinks it is important to save the lighthouse. “It’s a piece of history. If it just fell into the ocean, it would be something lost for other generations to see and enjoy.”

Gay Head is an important part of Martha Vineyard’s history. This area of the island has always been important to the Wampanoag tribe. Charles Vanderhoop was the first tribe member to be light keeper more than 75 years ago.

Members of Save the Gay Head Lighthouse are now turning from the past to the future, hoping the lighthouse’s designation as one of the nation’s most endangered historic places will provide a financial boost.

There is no time to waste, as even visitors like Lori Meade-McGrory of Medfield can see how quickly nature is taking its toll.

“We’ve always come to the lighthouse. It is beautiful. I’ve taken pictures of the cliff for the past 12 years and I’ve see it get smaller and smaller,” said Meade-McGrory.

The next step will be for the U.S Coast Guard to declare the lighthouse surplus property which would allow Aquinnah to proceed with the move.

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