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Oregon Coast's Heceta Head Lighthouse Changes and Challenges During 125-Year Anniversary

Published 05/12/2019 at 11:53 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Oregon Coast's Heceta Head Lighthouse Changes and Challenges During 125-Year Anniversary

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(Florence, Oregon) – She’s 125 years old but doesn’t look a day over 80.

One the big beauties of the Oregon coast is the Heceta Head Lighthouse, just north of Florence and not far south of Yachats. This year, the guiding light celebrates 125 years, with one more big event coming up, but lots to talk about on those daily tours.

There’s many changes brewing in the ancient structure as well.

Ben Ervin is a volunteer park ranger at the lighthouse and head of its interpretive program, among other things on the grounds. Technically it’s all managed by the Siuslaw National Forest and the feds, in concert with Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, sitting in what is known as Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint and Devil’s Elbow State Park. He is often at the helm, certainly when it comes to dealing with the public.

Ervin offered some insights into this anniversary and other aspects of the lighthouse.

The largest celebration just ended: the day-long festival that included the lighthouse keepers quarters (which is a separate bed and breakfast operation.) Still coming up, however, is a special spot on May 19.

“Next we’ll be a big part of the parade at Florence’s Rhododendron Festival,” Ervin said. “We were made the grand marshal of that parade, so we’ll be there with our replica of the Heceta Head lighthouse marching in the parade.”

Except for mentions during the daily tours (which are weather- and staff-dependent), that’s about it for the birthday parties.

Those interpretive tours, which happen 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., will hopefully soon have some new life. For a few months, access to the inside of the lighthouse has not been available. Ervin said it’s been about a few maintenance issues, which included replacing some lights and an inspection from a structural engineer that revealed some parts needed replacing.

That may change very soon.

“We’re hoping in the next two weeks,” Ervin said.

Ervin said it’s been a few years since officials stopped giving tours to the very top where the light is, and that is not likely to return once access to the lower interior is granted again. The big issue is the spiral staircase going all the way up, which can only handle so much stress.

“But there’s a lot of wear and tear on the stairway,” Ervin said. “It wasn’t built to accommodate thousands of people a year. It’s rather unique, and not like a lot of other lighthouses, in that the spiral stairway is only connected at the top. There’s not more than one landing along the way.”

It’s that stairway that helps perpetuate a constant rumor about the lighthouse: that it vibrates just a little when the winds hit it. Things do vibrate and shake a little, but that’s only the stairway, as people walking on it cause it to jiggle. This gives the impression the entire structure is moving.

“There’s no way the tower moves,” Ervin said.

Indeed, there is kind of a psychological trick the top of the lighthouse can play on you when the winds get stirred up. But it’s only an illusion.

“I’ve been up there too, and when the wind is really blowing, and there’s puffs of air that come through, and you swear it’s moving,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Heceta Head Lighthouse is still a working light, actually used for navigation, Ervin said. While all mariners these days utilize GPS and other forms of electronic navigation, if their gear goes out while in the area the lighthouse can still be used for getting around. In fact, Ervin said, if for some reason the light goes out they are required to notify maritime authorities.

Heceta Head Lighthouse Fun Facts:

Construction was started in 1892 and the light went live on March 30, 1894. During those two years, the lighthouse was built in phases, starting with the lighthouse keepers home. It’s one of the rare lighthouses on the Oregon coast still with its keepers quarters.

During World War II, the Navy was stationed here with a heavy presence. They built their own fort here, complete with barracks, a mess hall and more. 75 men lived and worked here. They had a pack of dogs which they used to patrol the beaches of the central Oregon coast.

The last lighthouse keeper retired in 1963: since then the whole operation has been automated and run by electricity.

Heceta Head Lighthouse website. 541-547-3416. Lodgings in Yachats - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours



 


 

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