Digest>Archives> September 2010

Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Clean Up

By Ben Prepelka


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Heavy equipment finishes the clean up at ...
Photo by: Ben Prepelka

With one of man’s largest environmental blunders spreading its choking oil slick throughout the Gulf’s waters and coastline, it’s hard to understand the significance of a two acre plot of sand, sprinkled with tiny particles of lead, barium, arsenic and PCBs. Seldom seen, except for routine patrols of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station security forces, Florida’s Cape Canaveral Lighthouse is almost off-limits to the general public. Once a month, tours offered by the 45th Space Wing allow a three hour visit to the only lighthouse owned by the USAF.

After a major lighthouse restoration project completed in 2007, the grounds remained off-limits, except for a narrow path to the oil house and lighthouse tower. Re-grading the area, replacing the ground with certified clean soil, and re-sodding work has been completed. Artifacts, discovered during soil remediation, have been decontaminated and await further analysis.

Once a lonely sentinel along the Cape Canaveral’s coast, today’s lighthouse is one of a half dozen towering structures seen reaching high above the dunes. Here among the palmetto scrub and sea oats, some of the first permanent roads and launch pads were built in the early 1950s. These reinforced concrete pads and steel launch towers looked out over the Bay of Florida, and marked the beginning of the space race. And, just as quickly as they were built, launch facilities outlived their usefulness and were abandoned, left to the corrosive sea air or razed for the next structure.

Unfaltering through the years, today’s historic Cape Canaveral Lighthouse has warned maritime traffic of the shoals that extend well beyond the tip of the Cape since 1868. First to show up on Spanish maps as the Cape of Currents in 1564, Cape Canaveral was a key landmark along the southern Atlantic coast. Here Spanish ships, laden with treasure, turned eastward toward the long trip home to Europe. The US also recognized the importance this landmark and erected the first lighthouse in 1847. Hopefully, when restoration is complete, more lighthouse fans will be able to enjoy this remarkable historic beacon.

This story appeared in the September 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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