The sentry is back on watch

■ STAFF REPORT     

As 2017 begins, islanders have the chance to witness the transformation of the long-neglected Rear Range Light into a beautiful island icon once again. Many residents and visitors witnessed the tent removal early Tuesday morning.

“It’s a miracle what our team has accomplished since work commenced in October, and while there’s still lots of work to be done, she sure is gorgeous in her new jacket of white,” said Jim Grant, the representative from the Barrier Island Parks Society who is heading up the project.

Here’s a summary of what’s behind us and what’s to follow in the coming weeks:

• Metal restoration and replacement work to both the interior and exterior of the lighthouse is essentially completed. In the process, more than 2,000 rivets were replaced and hundreds of weather-induced holes in the skin patched and sealed.

• Sandblasting inside and out is completed (with minimum disruption and mess, we might add), which was followed by sanding and painting during December. The interior and exterior are now completely spray painted in their final ash-white color. Final hand-painting of the exterior, also in ash white, has already started and will be finished shortly.

• The lantern room and catwalk will be black, as will the interior stairs, handrails, window sashes and grills (the renovation teams know the lantern room, catwalk, and sashes were black from historical photos). The original lighthouse did not have a handrail, so hundreds of feet of custom interior handrails were created and attached to brackets going up the steel stairs from the entry point to the lantern room for safety purposes.

• As soon as final exterior painting is complete (probably this week), the 400-foot-tall scaffolding will be coming down. The first thing you’ll see installed after that is a new replacement door at street level. The original door in 1927 was made of wood; the exact replica being used now is made of steel for security and durability reasons (but you won’t know it’s not wood).

• After that’s done, there’s a long list of interior work projects to be wrapped up to bring the light back to 100-percent restoration, including installation of new glass windows, protective grille work, new wiring and lightning protection systems, reconstruction of the original lantern room interior and installation of an authentic replica Fresnel lens in the lantern room.

• BIPS had hoped to patch and repair the cement pad the range light sits on, but upon examination by the experts, it was decided to remove and completely replace the cement pad. Concrete bollards will be recreated and connection piping replaced and painted. Extensive new landscaping with a system of paths is being planned for the entire seven acres of beachfront land that was received with the range light. A visitor-access pathway to and from the existing state park parking area will also be created.

Upon completion, all donors will be recognized on site at a ceremony, the date of which will be determined in the future. It is anticipated that controlled public access from time to time will be enabled. The view from the top is as good as it gets.

Larry Hannah, head of restoration fundraising, said, “We are still short of our goal of $1.8 million to finalize all aspects of this inspiring Boca Grande restoration project. We still must raise nearly $450,000 in the next few months in order to fund remaining interior installation work, to install hiking paths through the 7.4 acres of beachfront property given us in the bargain, provide safe and landscaped access to the light structure from the adjacent state park parking lot, and to guarantee a perpetual endowment for preservation and maintenance of both our island lighthouses for generations to come.”

Call 964-0060 to make a tax-free donation to this magnificent effort, or go online to barrierislandparkssociety.org.