Freeze column: A month on Cape Lookout
Published 12:00 am Monday, August 15, 2011
By David Freeze
For the Salisbury Post
Glenn Eagle and Larry Brown spent a month doing something that has made me envious. Larry and I were at Bostian Elementary School early on Tuesday morning to prepare for the upcoming United Way Day of Caring project. Since Larry is a veteran volunteer, we quickly dispatched the planning part of it and he showed me a picture album of his latest adventure. Eagle and Brown are both retired educators, and are making good use of their free time.
Eagle and Brown have just returned from spending a month at Cape Lookout National Seashore. They volunteered to work at the museum on site through the National Park Service. Eagle had volunteered before and a stint at the Portsmouth Village on the northern Outer Banks just whet his appetite for more of the same. Eagle’s real passion is lighthouses, so he explored the possibility of volunteering at Cape Lookout, home of the most famous lighthouse in North Carolina.
Once accepted to volunteer as a lighthouse keeper, Eagle needed a partner who could go along. Brown jumped at the chance. Accommodations for both were the Keeper’s Quarters, built in 1873. The Cape Lookout Museum is on the bottom floor of the house and that is where Eagle and Brown spent most of their time. Luckily, the house had electricity, though only one other building on the 56 mile island shared that luxury. They had ceiling and floor fans, bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen. “The heat was uncomfortable on a few days, but as long as the breeze was blowing, it was bearable,” Eagle said. The house had been remodeled a couple of times over the years, but still retained its simplicity.
From 300-500 visitors daily tour the island, and the focal points are the museum and the lighthouse. “Our goal was to make the visit a meaningful and enjoyable experience for everyone. We swept the sand, vacuumed it (where does it all come from) and moped the porch, Brown said. We shared the history and listened to their stories. Some of them told us things that we didn’t know. There were visitors from Canada, Germany, Russia, and lots of the US. But locals came too, and they provided us with some great information.” The island is accessible only by boat, with most visitors using the ferries. Vehicles were sometimes brought to the island, with the greatest majority being campers and four- wheel drives. They travel only on dirt roads and owners are required to remove them during the winter months.
The last ferry leaves the island at 5 p.m., and most of the visitors leave with it. Private boats and a few campers remain in the area, so Eagle and Brown found that time useful to explore on a John Deere Gator. They took the Gator to go shelling where Eagle and Brown found 65 shells within an hour and a half after one storm. “We were the only ones on the beach. We had the peace of walking on the beach with no one in sight,” Eagle said. They took most of the shells back to the museum for the kids, but kept some too. Both tried some fishing, but according to Brown, ‘Couldn’t even lose our bait.’
Brown recalled Rowan at the Lighthouse. He and Eagle were in the Keeper’s Quarters, the Hunsuckers from Rockwell manned the Visitor’s Center, and Tom Shuping was there to call on the gift shop for his company. The Fraleys came down from Morehead City where the Rowan Legion team played in the American Legion State Baseball Tournament.
Mondays and Tuesdays were off days for Eagle and Brown. They spent those days doing laundry and getting groceries, but also exploring surrounding points of interest. “I enjoyed visiting the Martime Museum in Beaufort, the History Place in Morehead City, and The Core Banks Museum on Harker’s Island. We also enjoyed eating at the Fish Hook on Harker’s Island,” Brown said.
The highlight of the month for both men was the time spent in the lighthouse. For about 1[0xbd] hours each day, they replaced the park rangers for lunch. The climb to the top involved 206 steps, but the view was always spectacular. Brown got to open the windows in the lighthouse in the mornings, so he was often the first to the top, and had about 30 minutes of solitude there before others arrived.
Eagle says that anyone can volunteer. Just go to www.nps.gov , click “get involved”, then click on “volunteer.” He says to fill out the application, and always follow up with a call. Some people have been waiting for over three years, but Eagle earned the right after just one year. Both men met an aviation retiree who pulls a camper behind his truck and is a full-time National Park Service volunteer.
Eagle hopes to return to Portsmouth in October, while Brown is exploring more Park Service sites. Eagle has plans for the future too. His 6-year-old grandson told him “When you go back, I am going.” Eagle plans to eventually volunteer at the lighthouse with both of his grandsons, Jake and Ian. “I want them to appreciate art and lighthouses.” I imagine that they will appreciate volunteering too.