Burrows Island – A Lighthouse-Saving Mission

Threading our way through Deception Pass at slack tide and motoring north past Anacortes, WA, I was surprised to glance up and find a historic light station perched on the southwest corner of Burrows Island. From Skyline Marina, I can look west and see the steep bluffs and heavily forested island, but the oldest intact wooden lighthouse in Washington State is hidden from my view. Designed by U.S. Lighthouse Board architect, Carl W. Leick, it took a little more than three years after the U.S. Congress appropriated funds on February 24, 1903 before the lighthouse began operating on April 1, 1906. The station helps ships navigate Rosario Strait and warns sailors to steer clear of nearby Dennis Shoal and Lawson Reef. Ironically, the lifesaving station where light keepers once rescued ships’ crews in peril, now needs rescue by a crew of skilled and unskilled volunteers!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In 1972, the United States Coast Guard automated the lighthouse. Today, a white flash is shown every six seconds at night and mariners can activate the fog signal by keying their VHF radios microphones five times on channel 83A. When this is done, the foghorn sounds a group of two-second blasts every thirty seconds for thirty minutes.

As a sailor, I’ve depended on both automated and staffed light stations to make informed decisions on when to transit dangerous waterways in Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington. Without a doubt, I prefer those with light keepers, because when equipment fails, the men and women who serve these stations will give an “eyeball” weather report and an accurate description of current conditions. Automated stations can be out of commission for more than a week at a time with no one to send a report. And most importantly, if a rescue is needed, these light keepers are often the first to respond to a MAYDAY.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In 1978, forty acres including 1,000 feet of shoreline around Burrows Island Lighthouse were conveyed to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. Today, most of the island’s 329.5 acres form Burrows Island Marine State Park. A trail behind the lighthouse ascends 650 feet through Madrone trees to the top of the island where there is a sensational view of Rosario Strait and stunning sunsets. However, a reader informs me a better view, less obscured by mature vegetation, may be found a hundred feet below and west of the summit.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As a result of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, Burrows Island Light Station became available from the United States Coast Guard on April 27, 2006 to an organization willing to commit to its restoration. Five non-profits applied. A decision was made and Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, signed paperwork on June 23, 2010 to begin the transfer of Burrows Island Lighthouse to the Northwest Schooner Society. In April 2011, NWSS became the licensed custodian of the USCG property.

Schooner Zodiac – Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Grants awarded by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington State Lighthouse Environmental Program, and Pacific Medical Centers allowed restoration to start that same year. The Northwest Schooner Society’s plans include creating an interpretive center within the lighthouse and offering multi-day “Lighthouse Keeper Programs,” where participants can stay in the Craftsman-style keepers’ duplex. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

In early 2021, the United States Coast Guard was preparing to remove the final lead-based paint contamination at the station. This would allow the USCG to release the Burrows Island Light Station title to the Northwest Schooner Society—which would then use an award from the Washington Heritage Capitol Fund to repair the duplex foundation and install the building’s utilities to accommodate visitors. According to the NWSS website ((c)2020-2021), they hoped to accomplish these tasks within a five-year timeframe. Click here to learn more about this worthy endeavor.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 – NKJV)

Thank you for reading!



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