Stand on the north shore of the Vineyard at any point as the sun begins to set and look to the west. As the last light of day floods the land and sea, in the distance you will see the silhouette of the lighthouse, a lonely sentinel standing on a promontory of land at the westernmost edge of the Vineyard. Then as darkness descends (and it does quickly on these early autumn days), wait a minute, keep eyes trained on that point of land and you will see the flash of the beacon that has guided mariners safely along the ruggest coastline for more than a century and a half.
This is the Gay Head Light — our Gay Head Light — and she is in trouble. Standing less than fifty feet from the edge of a rapidly eroding cliff, the lighthouse must be moved, and very soon. A consultant and the company that may well be hired to move the lighthouse have already determined that at least thirty feet of land is needed around the tower in order to accomplish the feat of moving it. That leaves about sixteen feet to spare, which certainly isn’t much, especially with winter storms on the way.
Moving the lighthouse will be expensive — estimates put the amount needed at about three million dollars. A private fundraising campaign began this summer and remains ongoing; a ten-kilometer road race will be held this weekend in Aquinnah to raise money for the cause.
But the lighthouse is a true Island icon, and in an idea that surfaced this week at the Chilmark selectmen’s meeting, all six Island towns will be asked to contribute a total of half a million dollars to the lighthouse moving effort from their respective Community Preservation Act funds in the name of historic preservation. Under the emerging plan, the host town of Aquinnah would contribute a little more than eighteen per cent of its historic preservation community preservation fund monies for this year; the other five towns would contribute eighteen per cent of their allocation. Still in its early stages, the proposal needs to be vetted through formal applications to Community Preservation Committees in each town and ultimately approved by voters at their annual town meetings next spring. The plan is made possible by a change in state law last year that allows Community Preservation Act funds to be put toward regional projects.
The Gay Head Light is a historic treasure that belongs to every Islander, and saving the light is a cause that every Island town can and should rally around.
All in to keep this beacon of our collective past alive.