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Coast Guard Airlift Benefits Chatham Lighthouse

Coast Guard Station Chatham (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Coast Guard Station Chatham (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

CHATHAM -- On Monday, a Coast Guard helicopter finished airlifting about 18 tons of materials and supplies to the Monomoy Point Light at the tip of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge off Chatham.

The supplies included drywall, lumber, generators and power tools for the upcoming renovation of the lighthouse and keeper's cottage, said Matthew Hillman, refuge manager of the refuge.

Airlifting by helicopter was the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to transport the heavy materials out to the lighthouse, which is located at the end of the 8-mile long island, he said.

"It's pretty much as remote as you can get while still being on Cape Cod," he said. "It's a pristine, beautiful setting ... very, very picturesque with rolling dunes and scrubby brush."

The current round of construction, to start in August, will finish off a restoration project that began about five years ago with federal stimulus funding, Hillman said. This phase of the renovation will be funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and includes the installation of a wrap-around deck and new drywall on the interior, he said.

The renovations will bring the lighthouse up to safety standards, he said. Currently, only refuge employees and scientists can use the lighthouse and keeper's cottage for research purposes, such as studying the many species of migratory bird species that stop at the refuge, he said.

"The lighthouse and the keeper station is still very important to wildlife research and management," he said. "My ultimate goal is to allow the public to access the lighthouse."

The last time construction work was done at the lighthouse, supplies were brought to the shore by barge and then to the site by all-terrain vehicles that had to traverse a makeshift road that cut through the wilderness, he said. This time, the Coast Guard helicopter lifted the supplies from Harding Beach and dropped them off 75 feet away from the lighthouse, where a group of 10 Fish and Wildlife Service employees and refuge volunteers carried the material by hand into the lighthouse, he said.

"This project working with the Coast Guard has been so critical because we didn't have to go through such an invasive process going through a preserved area," Hillman said.

There was $1.5 million awarded for the 2010 rehabilitation work on the lighthouse. Hillman said he didn't know how much the current project cost.

The wildlife refuge partnered with the Coast Guard, the town of Chatham, Chatham Municipal Airport, Robert Childs Inc., Friends of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge and volunteers to do the cargo lifts.

The Coast Guard helicopter made between 15 and 20 trips over the course of two days -- Friday and Monday -- to complete the supply run, Coast Guard Petty Officer Nicole Groll said.

With the newly renovated lighthouse, the public will have a unique opportunity to experience the history of Monomoy Point, said Eddie Horowitz, president of the friends group. After the lighthouse was built in 1823, the U.S. Lifesaving Service, which would eventually become the Coast Guard, staffed it for about 100 years until it was decommissioned, he said.

After the project is completed in late August or early September, visitors and researchers alike will have better access to a remote area of the refuge, Hillman said.

"I'm really excited that our staff and researchers will be able to use that building for the foreseeable future and just provide access to public," he said.

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