Piedras Blancas: Restoring light station’s luster

Much is new at the old Piedras Blancas Light Station, about six miles north of Hearst Castle on Highway 1. Buildings have been restored or replaced, new pathways created and a nonprofit foundation instrumental in helping that progress along has installed an entirely new board of directors.

The site is officially designated as a national outstanding natural area and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Among the buildings cited in those designations is the ornate Fog Signal building, one of the structures being lovingly renovated.

Restoration there is a “top priority,” according to Jim Bouchet, park manager of the Piedras Blancas Light Station/Outstanding Natural Area. The project is being funded by a donation from the Hind Foundation and the federal Bureau of Land Management, which manages the light station.

Other plans include seismic stabilization, crack and truss repairs, stabilizing the foundation and replacing roof coverings.

Harrison Gruman, BLM interpretive ranger, said a specialist in Yosemite is restoring the building’s windows, replica hardware has been ordered for some duplicate doors and the inside is being spruced up.

In other projects:

Some scruffy old Navy buildings have been torn down.

The historic oil-storage building has been restored;

A long-gone watch-room building has been re-created.

A gift shop has been situated in a small former Coast Guard building.

A half-mile pathway has been constructed around the point so visitors can see the dramatic views without damaging the habitat.

Historic exhibits have been created to enhance public tours conducted Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Gruman said Cal Poly engineering students are designing a replica of the old water tower and are preparing a one-fourth-size model of the old Fresnel lens, which is on display near the Veterans Memorial Building on Main Street in Cambria.

How is so much being accomplished at the site during these economically austere times? There are grants and BLM funding, of course. But one word covers most of the achievements: volunteerism.

Piedras volunteers

“The volunteers here are incredible,” said Bouchet. There were “15,000 (volunteer) hours donated two years ago, and last year, 18,000 hours. That’s the equivalent of nine full-time employees.”

Volunteers regularly lead public tours, taking joy in leading special tours for schoolchildren. The volunteers swing hammers, tidy up, pull weeds, plant native species, do historic research, help plan projects and write grant applications.

Some of the volunteers are children. The “Pennies for Piedras” lighthouse club at Grover Heights Elementary School has raised more than $6,000 and hosted a 135th birthday party for the lighthouse and soon may lead tours for other students.

The association

New association directors have launched a grant-funded plan to increase membership so the nonprofit can, in turn, raise more money to help restore the station. They are hosting an event Sunday at Cambria Pines Lodge to celebrate recent restoration accomplishments and attract new members.

New board Chairwoman Ramona Voge said the event is part of a new program of reaching out to the public, paid for in part by a $15,000 grant from the Conservation Lands Foundation.

She said a primary association goal is installing a replacement Fresnel lens and lantern room on the top of the 135-year-old tower.

Celebration Sunday

The public is invited to a celebration of the Piedras Blancas Light Station from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday in the Peacock Room at Cambria Pines Lodge, 2905 Burton Drive. The nonprofit Piedras Blancas Light Station Association will offer appetizers, nonalcoholic beverages (no-host bar available) and information at the free event. Live music is to be provided by Jill Poulos and Brynn Albanese. Memberships in the PBLSA will be available for $25 at the event, a discounted rate. For details on public tours of the light station, call 927-7361.