By Beverly Wright
To the Editor:
With the relighting of the Gay Head Light on Tuesday, August 11, the monumental task of saving the Gay Head Lighthouse has come to an amazingly successful conclusion. Based on the new location of the structure, 180 feet back from the cliff face, U.S. geologists predict that another move won’t be needed for a minimum of 150 years. The remarkable work done by everyone in our Vineyard community, as well as contributions from people across the country and even overseas, made it possible to save this iconic landmark for future generations to visit, learn about its history, and be guided by this maritime beacon on the open waters of Vineyard Sound.
There are many people to thank for this incredible project, starting with the Aquinnah community. On a cold February night in 2013, residents came to a special town meeting and voted to acquire the Gay Head Lighthouse, and to initiate a process to relocate the lighthouse within the town of Aquinnah. With an annual town budget of only $4 million, we faced a formidable challenge in the estimated $3 million that would have to be raised separately to relocate the lighthouse safely away from the eroding cliff face, after first acquiring it from the U.S. Coast Guard. That was the challenge we faced, and it was met with unanimous approval by voters.
The board of selectmen is to be thanked for the creation of a committee to oversee the relocation and restoration of the light, and the appointments of those with the expertise to bring the project to fruition. Volunteers from the community worked diligently over the next two and a half years, committing hundreds of hours toward the acquisition and relocation of the structure, as well as devising and executing a fundraising strategy that in the end is currently close to raising $400,000 more than the projected goal in order to meet unforeseen expenses that came with the move.
Obtaining the funds required the use of many different resources. Donations, fundraising events, merchandise sales, grants, and contributions were all key components in the effort to raise money for the project. All in all, over 1,100 people are to be thanked for their donations to the cause. From those who raised money from their lemonade stands to those who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars — thank you for believing that we could accomplish our goal. Thank you also to the Permanent Endowment Fund and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association for helping steward the funds to save the Gay Head Light from catastrophic loss.
To help gather momentum in the drive for funds, committee members delivered numerous events that brought attention to the plight of the lighthouse while raising much-needed revenue. Thank you to those who helped put together the winter and summer solstices, the 10K Run for the Light, and the Rosanne Cash concert, and to those who sold T shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers at the farmers’ markets, Agricultural Fair, and Tivoli Day. Thank you as well to Dana Gaines for his kayak trip around the Island that demonstrated his personal passion and dedication to the Gay Head Light.
In addition to funding received from grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, many local grants were awarded by various Island organizations. Thanks go to the Community Preservation Committees from all six towns for their support, and nonprofit groups such as the Farm Neck Foundation, the Rotary Club of Martha’s Vineyard, the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association, the Vineyard Golf Club Foundation, and the Permanent Endowment Fund, who recognized our dire situation and provided significant funding throughout the revenue-raising period.
And finally a big thank you to everyone who provided a key element to the overall success of saving the lighthouse: pro bono work, and in-kind and contracted services. Committee members, town hall personnel, business owners, and Island leaders dedicated themselves and their resources toward the overall goal of bringing the lighthouse into the Island fold and protecting it for future generations to come. Without that essence of community spirit, we never could have gotten to that moment of relighting the Lighthouse at 6:08 pm, August 11, 2015.
Thank you, everyone.
Chairman, Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee