MLC to work on preserving Alpena Harbor Light

ALPENA – The Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy has acquired the Alpena Harbor Light, two years after it became available under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

The nonprofit organization, which owns other lighthouses in the state, will work to restore the red, skeletal structure that sits at the mouth of Thunder Bay River, MLC President Jeff Shook said. After the General Services Administration made the lighthouse available in 2011, MLC members decided to apply to take it over.

Luckily, there’s not much to the Alpena Harbor Light, so there’s not much work to be done, Shook said. It’ll need painting and caulking, and a few windows need to be replaced.

“I’m sure from top to bottom it’s lead paint, because that’s what we’ve run into in every other situation,” he said. “So that’s going to be the biggest cost to take care of.”

Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be any paint flaking or peeling into the river, Shook said, but the lead paint still will need to be handled. The nonprofit received the lighthouse for free, and Shook expects it’ll cost $60,000-$80,000 to restore. The price could drop significantly if volunteers step in to help.

Anyone interested in pitching in can visit the conservancy’s website,, Shook said. There should be a dedicated page for the Alpena light soon.

Although the federal government has turned over the structure itself, don’t expect the light to go dark. Doug Sharp, USCG marine information specialist, said the Coast Guard will continue to maintain a federal aid to navigation inside. The GSA handles the transfers. The Coast Guard no longer has the manpower to work on every lighthouse as it once did back when the lights were manned.

“Now that they’re automated, there really isn’t enough people to go around as there was before,” he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also has a weather station and webcam on the lighthouse, and the light sits at the end of a pier jutting from land owned by Decorative Panels International, Shook said. The company has given MLC permission to access the light, and he looks forward to working with all three partners.

The current Alpena Harbor Light dates from 1914, and there has been a light marking the river mouth since 1875, according to lighthouse enthusiast Terry Pepper’s website. Originally, it was little more than a lantern on a pole, then replaced with a wooden tower on a pier. It was destroyed in 1888 when a nearby sawmill caught fire, and its replacement was torn down to be replaced by the current steel structure.

Working with the National Parks Service and the Coast Guard, the GSA strives to find stewards for these significant structures, GSA public affairs specialist Catherine Langel said. After the Coast Guard deems them to no longer be critical to its operations, they’re made available to federal, state and local agencies, schools or nonprofits for education, recreation, cultural or historic preservation. Four Michigan lighthouses were available in 2013, and one was sold in auction.

“Historic lighthouses are unique in that they hold sentimental and tangible value as historic properties, and continue to serve as maritime aids to navigation,” she said. “Their disposal requires a special approach to ensure that appropriate new owners are found.”

The lighthouse has become a sort of icon over the years, Shook said, earning nicknames like “Sputnik” and the “Little Red.”

“There’s all those types of nicknames that it’s gotten over the years, and we’re going to maintain it,” he said.

Check out the view from the Alpena Harbor Light, and the most recent weather station data:

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at