Bruce and Sara as National Park Rangers at
Cape Hatteras National Seashore

August 9, 2006

A New Concern --August 9, 2006

Usually decisions take forever here, and changes happen very, very slowly. For instance, our Lead Ranger, Mac, Sara and I still haven't received our "security clearances". We've been here for over three months, and yet we still aren't "secure." And there has been discussion about letting employees with motorhomes stay in the "campground" where the volunteers live since there are so many empty spaces there and paying to live "off base" can be so expensive. After more than three months, we've been told this may be approved by next season.

On the other hand, some decisions seem to be made very quickly with very little public comment and no efforts at consensus building!

Currently there is a proposal to remove the remaning clock mechanism and pedestal from the lighthouse (see pictures above) and lend them to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. The original "frame" of the Fresnel lens was lent to the Museum several years ago and now they would like the rest.

Meanwhile, all but one of Park Rangers and volunteers who work here at the Lighthouse feel this is an aweful idea compounded by the fact that the Museum is new, has had tremdendous and on-going problems obtaining funding, and is facing a financial crisis now since they were not able to get any federal or state funding.

So our friends can read more about this, here is the official announcement about this proposal, the letter written by the interpretive Park Rangers and VIP's at the Lighthouse, and Bruce and Sara's letter to the Superintendent. After reading about this, feel free to contact us if you have any questions or if you want to respond! (The official comment period ends on August 31, 2006)

The official announcement:


A partnership between Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras Village could result in the restoration of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse's Fresnel lens pedestal and the reuniting of the lens system as it is known to exist today. The Museum already displays a large portion of the 1854 lens in its original framework on loan from the Park Service. The Seashore is now proposing to loan the Museum the pedestal and several additional sections of the upper catadioptric panels where they can be properly restored, reunited with the pieces of the 1854 lens already on display there, and interpreted for the visiting public. This would enhance preservation of the pedestal and panels, restore the integrity of the entire lens/pedestal assembly, and make the assembly accessible to the public.

This project is currently planned to take place from October 10-23, 2006. It will include the removal of the pedestal from the upper levels of the lighthouse. The USCG will continue with the existing lighting in place as an active aid-to-navigation. Also, the lens panels currently displayed in the Cape Hatteras Visitor Center will be removed and sent to the Museum.

First, however, the National Park Service needs to have feedback from the public. Therefore, the Seashore has opened up a public comment period until August 31, 2006 regarding this project. To comment, go to, choose Cape Hatteras NS then click on "Removal Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Lens Pedestal" or you can write to: Superintendent, Outer Banks Group, 1401 National Park Dr., Manteo, NC 27954.


Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a fascinating combination of natural and cultural resources, and provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities. Once dubbed the Graveyard of the Atlantic for its treacherous currents, shoals, and storms, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has a wealth of history relating to shipwrecks, lighthouses, and the U.S. Lifesaving Service. These dynamic islands provide a variety of habitats and are a valuable nesting and wintering area for migratory birds, including several Threatened and Endangered species. The park's fishing and surfing are considered some of the best on the East Coast.

Located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches over 61 miles of barrier islands and includes Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocracoke Islands. Cape Hatteras National Seashore abuts and/or surrounds eight unincorporated villages, and attracts 2.5 million visitors annually.

Contact Information:
Outer Banks Group 1401 National Park Drive
Manteo, NC. 27954
Tel: 252-473-2111

The interpretive Park Rangers and VIP's (Volunteers in the Parks) letter to the Superindendent:

July 25, 2006
Michael Murray, Superintendent
National Park Service / Outer Banks Group
1401 National Park Road
Manteo, NC 27954

Dear Superintendent Murray:

As seasonal Park Rangers (Interpretation) at the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, it may be inappropriate for us to comment on the current proposal to move parts of the Cape Hatteras Fresnel lens, its drum and its gear mechanism to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. On the other hand, as part of our job we have contact with literally hundreds of visitors everyday; we spend hours sharing the history of the lighthouse, explaining why it was built and why it was moved, and talking about how the lighthouse worked, why the Fresnel lens was so important, and what happened to it.

Consequently, we feel we might be considered “stakeholders” in the decision making process. Some of us have worked for only a few months at the lighthouse; others are working their fourth season. We all have a personal connection with it, we all feel it needs to be protected and preserved, and consequently, we all feel the National Park Service should take into consideration a number of our concerns before a final decision is made.

  1. Moving the drum and gear mechanism would be an “interpretation disaster.”

    It is unfortunate that between 1936 and 1950, one of the most recognized and beloved lighthouses in America was vandalized, and that so many parts of the former Fresnel lens were destroyed or stolen. Again and again we hear visitors lamenting over this destruction; and many share their deep disappointment that the “gear” mechanism, the drum, and the original lens can no longer be seen intact. Nevertheless, with our small section of the Fresnel lens at the Visitor Center and with the gear mechanism and drum at the top of the lighthouse, we have hundreds of opportunities to talk about how the lens worked, about how the lighthouse keepers worked, and about the more philosophical issues about what should be done to preserve and protect our heritage and historical past.

    With both the upper lens in the Visitor Center and the gear mechanism and drum in the lighthouse, visitors ask questions, curiosity is provoked, and interpretation flows naturally. In fact, this year we have had so many questions about the former Fresnel lens that we keep a picture of the “skeleton” of the original Fresnel lens to help visitors understand what it looked like.

    Without a section of the Fresnel lens in the Visitor Center, people would never ask questions about it and would be unaware of its history. Without the gear mechanism and the drum section in the lighthouse, it would be difficult trying to explain what had been there, how the Fresnel lens worked, and what had happened to it; few would even know to ask questions about it. In contrast, with the lens section in the Visitor Center and the gear mechanism and drum in the lighthouse--- even in a damaged and incomplete state---people ask questions, they can envision how the lighthouse worked, they can better understand a part of the lighthouse keepers’ daily responsibility, and they can appreciate how much the lighthouse has suffered in terms of vandalism and abuse.

    Consequently, we would urge the Park Service not to move our section of the Fresnel lens, the gear mechanism and the drum to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. In fact, some of us feel it would be more appropriate to consider moving the Fresnel frame and lens in the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum back to the lighthouse. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, its museum, and the Visitor Center focus primarily on the lighthouse and its history. Isn’t it more appropriate to have one of the most important working parts of the lighthouse located at the lighthouse where visitors and historians would expect to find it?

  2. On a more philosophical level, if the National Park Service has been given the mandate “to protect and preserve,” should it be considering taking apart and moving the drum section and gear mechanism from its original location?

    Unfortunately, the frame and the upper sections of the lens have already been moved, and the remaining parts of the lens have been displayed in two different locations. Why destroy even more of the lighthouse’s historic fabric by removing the gear mechanism and drum section that are still in place. These are so much a part of the history of the lighthouse and become a focal point of discussion with visitors at the top of the lighthouse.

    It’s unfortunate that between 1936 and 1950, so much vandalism occurred; and it’s unfortunate that when the lighthouse was put into operation in 1950, the remaining Fresnel lens was removed, stored away and forgotten, and that the Park Service eventually let it be taken out of storage and placed in the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. To be sure, since 1936 when it was given management and ownership of the lighthouse, the Park Service may have failed occasionally in its responsibility to “protect and preserve” this historic lighthouse.

    Nevertheless, times have changed, and new regulations and standards have been established. In 1995, for instance, the Secretary of the Interior promulgated Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties (Standards and Guidelines for Preservation as amended and annotated.) (This Standard was revised in 2002 and is identified as Title 36, Volume 1, Sec. 68.3) Among the standards and guidelines in this document are several that are particularly pertinent:

    • The historic character of a property will be retained and preserved. The replacement of intact or repairable historic materials or alteration of features, spaces, and spatial relationships that characterize a property will be avoided.
    • Changes to a property that have acquired historic significance in their own right will be retained and preserved.
    • Materials and features from the restoration period will be retained and preserved. The removal of materials or alteration of features, spaces, and spatial relationships that characterize the period will not be undertaken.
    • Deteriorated features from the restoration period will be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature will match the old in design, color, texture and, where possible, materials.

    With these new standards, with a new commitment to the historical value of the lighthouse and all it represents, and our historical commitment to the Organic Act, why would the Park Service consider removing one of the most historical, critical, and fascinating parts of the lighthouse?

    Instead of removing the gear mechanism and drum, the Park Service should consider restoring them in place. Perhaps instead of removing more parts from the lighthouse, it should consider having its original parts returned to it.

    Obviously, as interpretive Park Rangers and individual “stakeholders,” we feel the Fresnel lens, the current gear mechanism and drum should not be removed and taken away from the lighthouse, they should not be moved from the Light Station; they should be left where they are.

  3. Finally, before more public hearings or discussion are held, we would like to invite you, Mary Doll, and any of the NPS historical staff who are available to meet with us, to talk with us, and maybe to have breakfast or lunch with us so we could share our concerns in person. (Our famous Buxton “Apple Uglies” are always good any time of the day!) We ask this because we are the ones who actually work at the lighthouse, talk to NPS visitors constantly, and are asked to interpret and explain everyday not only what is there, but what is not there.

We thank you for your time and consideration and look forward to hearing from you!

Looking ahead,

Signed (by all but one of the Park Rangers (Interpretation) and
the VIP Volunteers at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Sara's and Bruce's own letter to the Superintendent:

Dear Sir:

In the letter co-authored and signed by all but one of the Park Rangers (Interpretation) and many of the VIP’s and volunteers here at the Cape Hatteras Light Station, Sara and I have already expressed many of our concerns about the proposed plan to remove the clock mechanism and pedestal from the lighthouse and lend it to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.

Since we sent that letter, we have described the proposal with many visitors at the top of the lighthouse---and to date, not one person has thought is was a good idea. In fact, everyone has expressed strong feelings that the proposal makes no sense at all, that taking out the clock mechanism and pedestal would only destroy more of the historic lighthouse, and that without the remnants of the clock mechanism and pedestal an important facet of the lighthouse would be missing.

The recent story about the financial condition of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum further complicates the situation. Why remove an important and critical part of an historic lighthouse and move it to a museum that may no longer be able to function or keep its doors open? With the financial condition of the Museum in doubt, wouldn’t it make more sense to wait a year or two, and to delay until the Museum secures more stable funding or is able at least to resolve its current financial crisis? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use this additional time to study the current proposal more carefully and to gather more input? Considering the importance of this proposal, has anyone tried to spend time at the top of the lighthouse and talked with people, surveyed visitors, or poll lighthouse organizations?

Finally, having served for years on town councils and town planning boards and having taught seminars and classes on “civics” for groups like Common Cause, I am a little surprised at how this proposal has been handled. First there was very little information about the proposal until news releases were given to the media, and all the stories about the proposal all but inferred the decision was a “done deal”, that the decision had already been made, and that a time-table for implementing it had already been established. Now that a comment period has been publicized, there seems to be very little time between the end of the comment period and the planned implementation of the proposal in October, no time has been set aside for public debate, and there are no plans for pubic hearings.

Of course, all of this seems particularly strange and unusual since within the NPS everything else seems to take so much longer: we are beyond the half way point in our six month summer season, but the lead Ranger and three others haven’t received security clearances yet; even though more than half the RV sites at the VIP campground at the lighthouse have never been used this summer and are empty, the proposal to let some of the seasonal staff use them seems to be proceeding at a slow snail’s pace and may not be implemented until next year; and the suggestion that we adopt or re-classify two pre-existing trails in our park as “official” trails, and to publicize and talk about them has hit a major roadblock and probably won’t be considered this year.

Perhaps it’s simply not prudent to rush so quickly to remove the clock mechanism and take out the Fresnel pedestal. Perhaps it makes sense to take some time to study the issue while determining if the Museum will survive as long as the lighthouse.

Bruce and Sara Schundler

(In another email sent to the NPS, Bruce and Sara wrote:)

Another comment:

A recent visitor called attention to another problem with the proposal to remove the clock mechanism and pedestal from the top of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.

As he pointed out, the weather and exposed conditions at the top of the lighthouse can be harsh; nevertheless, the clock mechanism and pedestal have survived these conditions for over 136 years. It has survived storms and hurricanes, 15 years of abandonment, and thousands of visitors a year. The only significant damage has been cause by human neglect and abuse.

Meanwhile, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is in a very exposed area and it would be vulnerable to any significant storm. To be sure, any major storm could be devastating to the Museum and its collection.

Ultimately, if preservation and protection are the primary concerns motivating this discussion, then leaving the clock mechanism and pedestal in place seems to offers more protection in the long run.

The clock mechanism and pedestal should be repaired and reconditioned, but they should be repaired and reconditioned in situ so that more visitors can enjoy them for many more years!

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