The Port Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum resumed its place as a premier tourist magnet upon re-opening Sunday with a shiny newly painted exterior.
The 122-year-old building immediately began serving as staging ground for family fun, a cyclist destination, historical education and fascination with all surrounding fauna and flora. Its gleaming floors belied the sandy footprints tracked by what will be more than 20,000 visitors again this year after last year's record 22,000-plus.
Executive Director Sharon McKenzie beamed as more than two-dozen visitors filed in as soon as the doors opened after the annual August maintenance sabbatical. McKenzie chatted with a 10-year-old girl painting a vivid picture of what once was as the girl kept offering questions.
Sally Atkinson was on hand for the gift shop opening. The gift shop is a key component for lighthouse and museum finances.
As the girl wandered off to check out the rest of the museum, McKenzie turned serious about some of the electrical and structural issues the museum faces as it prepares to celebrate Spanish Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and play its part for the Viva Florida 500th anniversary.
One particularly harrowing fix involved electrical arcing under thee exterior of the lighthouse.
"It was really scary," McKenzie said. "Thank God it didn't cause a fire."
What: Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum
Where: The extreme southern end of Gasparilla Island
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 1. Closed all major holidays
Contact: Call (941) 964-0060
To help: To contribute to lighthouse repairs, send a check to BIPS at P.O. Box 637, Boca Grande FL 33921.
The bills are still coming in but McKenzie expects the repair bill to be in the thousands.
Another major concern involved a corner brace slipping its moorings. McKenzie worked with Gasparilla State Park Manager Chad Lach, who brought in a Tallahassee engineer to address the problem. Repairs could run upwards of $20,000 after a full assessment has been made. McKenzie and Lach are collaborating on the repair project.
Other maintenance included having the floors redone and replacing rotting wood around one of the north-facing windows and the east-side porch.
"The building is 122 years old," McKenzie said. "It's all typical historical lighthouse repair issues. Unfortunately, it has all come at the same time."
Thankfully, she said, the Florida Lighthouse Association have the Barrier Island Parks Society a grant to defray the costs of the exterior paint job and wood rot repair.
"Unfortunately, it did not cover the electrical," she said.