By Kari Pugh | Correspondent
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is undergoing a complete makeover for the first time in its 151-year history.
During in-person and virtual presentations this fall, the park service outlined potential plans and timelines for a renovation that will include everything from an exterior paint job to landscaping the grounds.
“We’re re-doing everything you see, and a lot you don’t see,” said David Hallac, superintendent of National Parks of Eastern North Carolina.
Park officials asked for the public’s feedback this fall to help identify “issues and opportunities” for the lighthouse and grounds on Hatteras Island. An environmental assessment follows later this year, with a public review of suggested work expected in early 2022 and construction starting by spring.
Preliminary work is already underway. The 198-foot structure’s interior was stripped of paint this spring and summer, keeping the lighthouse closed to climbing during Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s busiest tourist season since 2002. The interior work uncovered a few problems from the past, including a mystery substance under the paint, bricks missing mortar and an extensive crack from a lightning strike in the 1890s, park officials said.
“Our historic architects are starting to both literally and figuratively dig into these problems, and help us understand what we should do next,” Hallac said.
The park service has also started testing paint removal for the structure’s iconic black and white swirls. Last fall, Newport News-based HydroPrep tested dry-ice blasting to remove paint on a few feet of the lighthouse in Buxton. The method uses dry ice pellets that turn to carbon dioxide gas, stripping the paint without damaging the brick.
Park officials are also focusing on restoring some of the historic, character-defining features of the lighthouse, including the first-order Fresnel lens that supplied the beacon’s beam from 1870 to 1936. The lens now greets visitors to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum nearby.
The grounds will be a large part of the renovation, with the park service planning to restore some of the landscape and native grasses that were around the lighthouse before it was moved from the beach to its current location in 1999.
Park officials are also weighing proposals for comprehensive grounds changes like sculpting berms to restore the natural landscape and building multiple paths and a shade pavilion.
The National Park Service has received some funding for the massive renovation, including $1.4 million for an interior paint job, but final costs won’t be certain until projects and unexpected problems are identified, Hallac said. The full restoration is expected to take one to three years to complete.
The renovation addresses items identified in both a federal 2014 Comprehensive Condition Assessment Report and a 2016 Historic Structure Report. The findings included deteriorated masonry and metal components, missing pediments over the windows and missing internal doors.
The lighthouse, designed and constructed in between 1868 and 1870, is the tallest light tower in the United States. About 500,000 people visit the beacon each year and about 1,500 people climb the lighthouse daily between April and October.