■ BY SUE ERWIN
The lease is here. Gasparilla Island Light Committee Jim Grant announced that Barrier Island Parks Society has received a lease dated as of April 1 to restore the Gasparilla Island Range Light.
“This will enable BIPS to get the key and start fixing it up,” he said.
Grant gave a presentation at a town hall meeting on Thursday morning, March 31 at the auditorium.
“We thought it was important to hold this town hall meeting to update residents and explain that we still have a lot of work to do,” said Sharon McKenzie, Executive Director at Barrier Islands Park Society. McKenzie, who also is a member of the Florida Lighthouse Association Board, said there are 30 existing lighthouses in the state, and only a dozen are open to the public on a regular basis.
The funding required to complete the project is $1,783,000. So far, $400,000 has been raised. Grant stressed that they will be doing more repairing than replacing, to keep as much of the original structure intact as possible. “There is advanced rusting, and the door is impassible. It’s been 35 years since the structure has had any maintenance,” he said.
The lighthouse was originally built in Delaware in 1881. It was moved to Gasparilla Island in 1927. It was declared a historic lighthouse with a preservation mandate in 2010. Grant said it was in great shape in the 1950s, and then it deteriorated badly in the 1980s.
The U.S. Army relinquished claims to the 7.4-acre property in 2013. In 2016, the United States Coast Guard licensed BIPS to restore and maintain the property.
“I think the residents need to recognize that this is 7.4 acres that will never be developed. It will be protected and preserved for the future,” Grant said. The nearly $1,800,000 price includes an endowment fund that would maintain the property.
The goal is to raise a minimum of 75 percent of the projected funding needs by the end of April.
“If we can achieve this, we expect that the range light can be refurbished and restored over an 8- to 10-month period of time. We could theoretically be done with most of the work by October, 2016, and seasonal residents could return to a beautifully restored lighthouse,” Grant said.
Restoration plans include developing a circular walkway around the exterior of the existing cement-metal fence and an access path connecting to the Gasparilla Island State Park parking lot. Concrete repairs and surface painting will be done in the final stages.
“The bottom line is, we want to bring it back to its original 1927 splendor,” said Larry Hannah of the Gasparilla Island Light Committee. Hannah added that the organization is also accepting stocks, securities, pledges or cash donations for the project. If you’d like to be a part of helping restore the range light, you can mail a donation to The Light Keeper’s Fund, P.O. Box 654, Boca Grande, FL 33921.