The National Park Service last week approved the city of Port St. Joe’s application for conveyance of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse to the city.
A similar application from the Board of County Commissioners was turned down.
In a letter to Port St. Joe Mayor Mel Magidson, John R. Barrett, program manager of the Federal Lands to Parks program with the Department of the Interior National Park Service, wrote that “it is a pleasure to inform you that the application has been approved pursuant to the requirements of the Federal Lands to Parks program.
“The next step in the acquisition process involves requesting assignment of the property from the General Services Administration for subsequent transfer.”
The city’s goal is to create a public park and recreation area, currently called BayPark, along the coast of St. Joseph Bay as part of George Core Park (see related story A1).
“They had actually sent the letter Dec. 21 but our servers were down so we didn’t get it until (Dec. 27), so it really was a great Christmas present,” Magidson said. “I feel great because a lot people have worked on this, (the Historical Society, the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency), a lot of credit goes to them.
“I just think between the two submissions, which was unfortunate, they saw more merit for ours where we wanted to place it and the historic and recreational uses we intended. My hope is the people who wanted it to stay on the cape will see that in the long run this is something that is going to benefit the entire county.”
The Cape San Blas Lighthouse rose on the radar after Hurricane Isaac earlier this year took away another 24-30 feet of coastline near the lighthouse grounds. That area of the coast, owned by the U.S. Air Force, has been steadily and at times rapidly eroding for years.
At one time the grounds served for walking eagle tours during an annual festival and a row of barracks once sat adjacent to the lighthouse grounds. The U.S. Air Force tested rockets near the site as recently as the early 1990s.
But all that land has been swallowed by the ocean and Air Force officials out of Eglin, the home base for the land, contacted Magidson to gauge the city’s interest in taking possession of the lighthouse and ancillary buildings.
Subsequent the city’s expressing interest and a fundraising campaign was launched to the fund the relocation, the BOCC also expressed an interest in acquiring the lighthouse and moving it to Salinas Park on Cape San Blas.
The PSJRA created the tentative design for BayPark and provided much of the material for the application to gain possession of the lighthouse.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Magidson said. “We have to raise a lot of money. We have big plans, but for something like this, I think you need to think big.”
The organization most invested in the lighthouse, the St. Joseph Bay Historical Society, had voted unanimously among members at its last meeting to support a move of the lighthouse to the city.
The Historical Society began working to restore the lighthouse and grounds some 22 years ago.
Over the years, the organization has secured more than $800,000 in grant funding to restore one of two keepers’ quarters – the other had been renovated by the U.S. Air Force – and to provide lead abatement for the tower, to facilitate visitors climbing the tower.
The Society established and operated a gift shop on the grounds and was the liaison in a lease agreement between the BOCC and the U.S. Air Force on a lease for the lighthouse and grounds.
“We at the St. Joseph Bay Historical Society are elated that the city’s application was accepted,” said Historical Society president Charlotte Pierce. “We are excited, look forward to it and are honored at the trust placed in us to preserve this piece of our heritage and history.”
The Historical Society has been on a fundraising campaign since summer to secure funding for relocation of the lighthouse and associated buildings.
An estimated $300,000 will be needed for the relocation but fundraising efforts have been complicated by the competing interest and application from the BOCC.
“When you realize that we started all this back in 1990, it has been a learning experience,” Pierce said. “We asked for volunteers but we decided that we were just going to have to put our shoulder to the wheel and get it done.
“We learned a lot, we prayed a lot and we are elated that we have gotten it. This is something very dear to our hearts.”