FRANKFORT — An ever-widening crack in the cement slab the Point Betsie Lighthouse sits on threatens to sink the historic site.
But focusing on the crack is a little misleading, said Dick Taylor, president of the Friends of Point Betsie Lighthouse, the group responsible for upkeep and management of the lighthouse.
“The shoreline protection system is what needs attention,” Taylor said. “As the water level becomes higher and higher that becomes a priority.”
The shoreline system consists of a cement cap that slopes down from the lighthouse to a corrugated metal seawall. It was installed circa 1944, and along with another project planned for the lighthouse property, will cost upwards of $1 million, Taylor said.
The monthly average water levels on lakes Michigan and Huron recently topped by 3 inches the record set 33 years ago. The lakes will rise another inch by mid-March, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
High water is wreaking havoc up and down Michigan’s shoreline, affecting homes, marinas, roads and beaches.
A second beach access project long in the works for the lighthouse site will add sidewalks and angled parking next to Point Betsie Road, a beachfront deck and boardwalk, and beach access for those who use wheelchairs. A turnaround will be also be added at the end of Point Betsie Road.
The project will make it much safer for visitors — especially those with small children — who now must walk in the road, Taylor said.
The lighthouse site is located on Lake Michigan and includes a restored lighthouse keeper’s residence, the Boathouse Museum and a Fog Signal Building.
The beach access project in 2018 received a $99,335 Coastal Zone Management grant from the Office of the Great Lakes, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A fundraising campaign that was started over the summer has raised about $1 million, Taylor said. The seawall system gets top priority, he said, but the group needs enough money to do both projects.
A request for proposals has been sent out for an engineering study and the permitting process has been started, he said, adding that the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers and the State Historic Preservation Office all need to sign off on the project.
Once the engineering study is done the group will seek bids for the work.
“We’ll hopefully get the whole thing done before next winter,” Taylor said.
The lighthouse property was deeded to Benzie County in 2003, when the federal government was offloading things like lighthouses and airports around the country, Taylor said.
The county at that time did not want to take on the financial responsibility of the lighthouse, said Commissioner Art Jeannot. A group of interested citizens that became the Friends group came forward and said that they would restore, manage and take over upkeep of the site if the county took title, he said.
While the county owns the lighthouse and surrounding property, the U.S. Coast Guard owns the light itself, which is still in use.
The lighthouse was established in 1858 and for 106 years had a fresnel lens, which is now displayed in the museum. It was the last lighthouse on Lake Michigan to become fully automated in 1983.
At one time more than 100 ships passed the lighthouse every day, Taylor said. Today it’s a part of local history, he said.
“With smart phone and GPS, lighthouses are kind of yesterday’s technology,” Taylor said. “We all need to appreciate what a wonderful asset it is. It’s wonderful, neat, historic stuff.”
The lighthouse site was honored in 2010 with the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.