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Muskegon working to take-over iconic lighthouses from conservation group

The South Breakwall Light was found to require major structural repairs and will need a fresh coat of its iconic red paint.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — As they have for years, tours of one of the Lake Michigan shoreline’s most famous lighthouses, built around a century ago, open for the summer season on Monday, Memorial Day.

Yet, for both of Muskegon’s iconic lights, the promise is of something all new this year.

Credit: WZZM
Muskegon's South Pierhead Lighthouse

Just as they’ve guided mariners into Muskegon Lake since the turn of the 20th century, the structures looming over the sand and surf along Pere Marquette Beach also draw thousands of tourists to the area annually, city leaders estimated.

The beginning of the tour schedule coincided with a unanimous decision by Muskegon city commissioners to move forward with acquiring both the South Pierhead Lighthouse and the South Breakwall Lighthouse from the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy, which managed them for more than a decade.

The intention, city officials related, is to preserve the structures for future generations of locals and visitors to the area alike.

“When you come to a lakeshore community along Lake Michigan, you want to see the lighthouses,” Dave Alexander, Muskegon’s community engagement specialist noted. “These are the two that we have, that we're very proud of and there are probably dozens and dozens of times a night when that sun goes down over Lake Michigan, they are the foreground to the photos that people are taking of what are iconic Lake Michigan sunsets.”

The decision, Alexander said, was met with the opposite outcome when the prospect was first outlined to city leaders in 2010.

The most recent development, he related, was based upon the lighthouses’ enormous cultural significance, cementing Muskegon’s status, with its deep-water port, as one of the Great Lakes’ foremost maritime communities.

The Breakwall Lighthouse, with its façade of peeling red paint and graffiti, remains in dire need of restoration.

Credit: WZZM
Muskegon's South Breakwater Lighthouse
Credit: WZZM
Signs of decay and defacement dominate the worn red facade of Muskegon's South Breakwater Lighthouse

A recent engineering study, Alexander noted, also suggested the Light’s structural components had degraded significantly and would require repairs to keep the lighthouse standing as it’s done since 1931.

The city’s already holding as a fiduciary some $800,000 from a grant received within the last several years to begin the first phase of what’s likely a major undertaking.

The prospect, however, presents a set of fundamental challenges based upon the geography and natural forces at play.

“It sits out in Lake Michigan about a quarter mile, so the issues out there are heavy wind, waves, and how to do the work that would be environmentally sensitive,” Alexander explained. “We're looking at various ways to get that done."

The city anticipated work to begin in the summer of 2023 or the following year.

The acquisition process itself is expected to entail several months of permissions, lease agreements and collaboration with various state and federal agencies.

For tour dates and opportunities, consult the Muskegon Lights website.

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