Are you one of those romantic souls who dreams of living in a lighthouse? Are you fascinated by maritime history? Do you love being on the beach and near the water? Then the Volunteer Keeper Program is the perfect way for you to spend your summer vacation in Michigan. It’s certainly on my Michigan Bucket List.
Michigan has more coastline than any other state, with the exception of Alaska, and it has the most lighthouses. At one time, the ships on our Great Lakes were protected by as many 247 lighthouses. Today there are 109 light houses still standing. Forty of our remaining lighthouses are open to the public for tours. A handful of those lighthouses have Volunteer Keeper Programs. Many lighthouses are operated as non-profits, and the Lighthouse Keeper Program helps keep the lighthouses accessible to the public, while also maintaining them.
There are lighthouses on Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior that have Volunteer Keeper programs. Your experience and required duties vary depending the location where you serve as lighthouse keeper. At Lighthouses that are easily accessible, like Mission Point on Old Mission Peninsula, just outside Traverse City, duties include acting as host for tour visitors and operating the gift shop. You’ll also do light housework, including cleaning the tower windows. You may also be asked to do simple outdoor gardening and maintenance, such as painting.
In exchange for your work at Mission Point, you’ll receive a week-long stay in the former keeper’s quarters inside the lighthouse. It’s furnished with everything you need, from cooking utensils to a washer and dryer. You just bring linens and a smile to greet visitors. You’ll get one day off during your stay, as well as evenings after the lighthouse closes at 5 pm. You’ll also get to wake up to Lake Michigan right outside your window and go to bed surrounded by black water and dark sky, illuminated by the lighthouse’s lifesaving beacon. Generally only two adult lighthouse keepers are allowed each week. No children or pets may stay.
There are other Volunteer Keeper options for more adventurous folks, such as a stay at Detour Reef Lighthouse in northern Lake Huron. I think it would be a thrill to act as lighthouse keeper for this crib light. It sits about a mile offshore, on a cement base, on top of a water covered reef. There is no dry land around it, so it’s only accessible by boat. You’ll have to climb a ladder from the boat up to the lighthouse. Then you’ll wait while your gear is hoisted up on a rope.
Lighthouse keeper’s stay for one full weekend, without shore leave, because of the remote location. One day during the weekend, you host visitors touring the light, serve refreshments and operate the gift shop. You’ll also have light cleaning and maintenance duties. Children are allowed to participate in this opportunity. However, you need to be in good physical condition, so you can climb up and down the 20 foot pier ladder.
While Electricity and plumbing are available at Detour Reef, your stay is a trip back in time. The furnishings and amenities hearken back to the 1930’s, including period kitchen appliances. Volunteers need to provide linens, all personal items and food.
There are several lights where you can volunteer as a lighthouse keeper in Michigan. Some of the programs are free. Some charge a small a fee or require you to purchase a membership. You can find more about the lighthouse Volunteer Keepers Program on the GLLKA website. Check it out, and make your dream of living in a lighthouse come true!