ILWACO — The first two families who visited the refurbished North Head Lighthouse on Aug. 22 were proof positive the Ilwaco landmark attracts people from far away.
First to arrive in the warm morning sun were Chris and Steve Chennault from Camano Island, west of Everett, who drove 233 miles.
Next were Dorothy and Bill Crow who came even farther — 379 miles — from Wilbur, a farm hamlet in Eastern Washington.
Both couples were soon enthusing about what Washington State Parks crews have done to spruce up the lighthouse and its environs.
“This is so beautiful. Look at the job they did on it!” beamed Chris Chennault as she snapped photos of the spectacular ocean view with her miniature Nikon.
“We were just hoping for sunshine today because we wanted to come down here,” she said, recalling rain the day before. “ This is a beautiful destination for us. We like to camp we wanted to see both the lighthouses.
“We hope to bring all our 12 grandchildren here,” she added. “They live in other states, but it would be wonderful to have everyone come and enjoy the lighthouses together and show them some things that are meaningful to us.”
The price tag of about $2 million has been paid from the state capital budget plus locally raised funds from the Friends of North Head supporters group, including the proceeds from gift shop sales as well as donations.
Aaron Webster, interpretive specialist with State Parks, was among those celebrating. “It has been a long time and, having worked here for 16 years, that lighthouse has been due for renovation — big-time. Finally, we got all our ducks in a row!”
He commended the Friends of North Head for their efforts to lobby legislators to secure state funding. “A lot of the momentum has come from them,” he said. “They have really moved the project along.”
Volunteer host Bob Sargent declared North Head open for tours a little after 11 a.m. Thursday after a quick recitation of the sensible footwear rules and minimum stair-climbing age to the half-dozen families already lined up to climb the tower.
Pride in the facility was evident in his brief presentation. “We are still an active naval-aid light, used by fishing ships and freighters,” he declared. “They still rely on this light.”
For periods during the past four years, the state of Washington-owned lighthouse has been been closed for the significant repairs.
Sargent noted that the U.S. Coast Guard removed some of the original windows in the tower in the 1960s. These have been put back using modern replica wavy-style safety glass manufactured by a Midwest company.
The re-opening was delayed, in part, because the building didn’t exactly match original plans, Sargent said. The all-brick building has a stucco coating.
“There was a sandstone cap over the base, and the original pictures showed a concrete foundation,” he explained. “But when the sandstone was exposed, when they peeled it off, they found it was not concrete underneath but rubble stone pile.
“They had to literally jack the tower up to clear and pour concrete in there.”
Two neighboring oil buildings, used to store kerosine that fueled the old lamps, will be renovated next spring. Webster said one will be converted into a bathroom. A wrought-iron fence — a replica of the original — will be installed, too, to keep visitors away from the 120-feet drop to the beach and ocean.
The site is accessible for the first time to people using wheelchairs. Disabled visitors with state-issued parking placards may park free. All other visitors need to purchase a State Parks Discover Pass.
The Crows were as impressed as the Chennaults after their trek to North Head.
Dorothy Crow smiled as she watched 4-year-old Elsie pedaling her tiny bicycle around the base of the lighthouse. “We have come here with our children, then our grandchildren and now our great-grandchildren,” she laughed.
Bill Crow settled on a stone curb to chat, tugging the family schnauzer close on his leash. “We come here once a year when it’s harvest time at home,” he said. “They did an awfully good job restoring this. The last time we were here the base was crumbling. Now it looks beautiful.”