Maritime museum looks for help to preserve Little Gull Island light

Little Gull Island Light off the eastern end of Long Island is seen in this April 2009 photo.
Little Gull Island Light off the eastern end of Long Island is seen in this April 2009 photo. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

New London - The director of New London Maritime Society is hoping that by preserving public access to lighthouses within view of the city, this waterfront community could become a mecca for lighthouse enthusiasts.

"We'd like to keep these historic structures in the public domain,'' said Susan Tamulevich, who has been lobbying public officials to halt the sale of the lighthouse on New York's Little Gull Island. She's has been talking with Save the Sound and some environmental groups from New York about a partnership to acquire the small island at the eastern end of Long Island Sound about four miles from Fishers Island.

The goal, she said, is to protect the nesting habitats of the piping plover and the roseate tern, and to keep the historic structures open to the public.

"We don't want to see the island get turned into a rich person's plaything,'' she said. "We want it to remain in the public realm."

The federal General Services Administration opened public bidding on the 143-year-old lighthouse in May after no nonprofit groups expressed interest in maintaining the lighthouse. To date, two bidders have gone as high at $60,000 for the one-acre island and the 450-square foot lighthouse. Little Gull was established as a lighthouse site in 1805.

The New London museum was not eligible to take over the lighthouse because the island is part of New York. Now, the only way to stop the bidding, Tamulevich said, is if Save the Sound or a New York group opts to take the island over as a nature preserve to protect wildlife.

"We're talking with GSA and federal Fish and Wildlife Services to see if there's a way we can do this,'' she said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Friday that he planned to help.

"I am hopeful that we can help the New London maritime society," he said. "We will be in touch with the General Services Administration seeking a way to help this group. ... I will be contacting her (Tamulevich) myself."

Sharing stewardship would be fine with Tamulevich.

"It would be a partnership,'' she said. "They get the habitat and we get the land immediately around the lighthouse. They would have a say as to when we can go over there so nests are not disturbed. And we'd be fine with that."

Even viewing the lighthouse only by boat would be acceptable, she said. Another option would be to have a live-feed camera on the lighthouse.

"There's all that history there,'' she added.

The museum took stewardship of New London Harbor Light in 2010 and offers tours several times a year. From the observation deck, four other lighthouses are visible - Little Gull, Ledge Light, Race Rock and Avery Point.

The museum is hosting this summer's second weekend of "Sentinels of the Sound" Aug. 4-5. It will include tours of New London Light, boat rides to other lighthouses and a multi-media maritime concert by John Mock, a musician and photographer who once lived in New London.

The museum is also looking into forming a partnership with the Ledge Light Foundation to acquire Race Rock. Interested groups have to submit proposals to the GSA and the National Parks Service will make a determination on who will get custody of the light. Race Rock light is located at the western tip of Fishers Island, about eight miles from New London.

Little Gull, she said, along with Big Gull Island and Plum Island make a triangle of historic markers in Long Island Sound.

"We are a hub of lighthouses,'' she said. "New London could have an identity as a tourist destination. It really can be a great stepping off place to visit any number of lighthouses."

The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Action of 2000 gives the government the authority to transfer surplus federal property for parks. If no preservation group or nonprofit wants the property, it goes out for public auction.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

Sentinels on the Sound

What: boat trips and tours of New London Harbor Light

Who: Custom House Maritime Museum, 150 Bank St., New London

When: Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 4-5.

Info: (860) 447-2501 or visit www.nlmaritimesociety.org.

What else: Multimedia concert by John Mock

When: 4 p.m. Sunday at the Custom House.

Cost: $15 for adults, $10 for maritime society members; $5 for children 14 and under.

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