Wednesday, August 27, 2014

West Virginia’s Lighthouse

With the demand for clean energy, wind turbines are becoming more prevalent along mountain ridges in West Virginia. I remember my surprise the first time I rounded a curve of U.S. Rt. 219 on the way to Blackwater Falls and came seemingly face-to-face with a huge wind turbine. They can also be seen near four-lane U.S. Rt. 33 entering Elkins and north of I-68 above Cheat Lake, as well as several other spots around our state. I find them to be fascinating!

During the construction of a large wind farm in Greenbrier County, one of the base units to support the turbine was slightly damaged at the construction site before it was erected. Although the damage was minor, this tubular tower could no longer be used for its intended purpose. Rather than send it to the scrap yard, someone joked that perhaps it could be repurposed as a lighthouse for Summersville Lake (West Virginia’s largest lake) in neighboring Nicholas County.

What started as a joke has become a reality. Just off U.S. Route 19 at Mt. Nebo is the Summersville Lake Lighthouse, which opened to the public on West Virginia’s sesquicentennial last summer. We were in the area recently and paid the $7 admission fee to climb the 122 spiral steps to the top of this tapered tower. The 360 degree view from the deck encircling the top is beautiful! One can see a portion of the lake in the distance (the lighthouse was placed in the Summersville Lake Retreat campground closer to Rt. 19 than to the lake itself). A number of larger green forested mountains dot the distant horizon (as well as the brown dirt and rocks from a mountaintop removal project beyond the lake).

While the views are impressive, I think the most interesting aspect is how this project came together. It is a good lesson in how a creative idea can come to fruition—even without major funding—when a community pulls together behind it. Plus, it shows that even a green energy initiative can be recycled by resourceful West Virginians.

Once the slightly damaged base was acquired, it was arranged for the Nicholas County Vo-Tech students to create and assemble the spiral staircase (donors to the project are recognized with a plaque on the step risers that can be easily read when walking up the twisting stairway). The top for the lighthouse (including the roof, the lantern room, and the exterior catwalk with its safety railing) was built by students from the Fayette County Vo-Tech center.

The Summersville airport just happened to have an old navigational beacon light stored away which dated back to the 1940s, complete with a rotating Fresnel lens. This was carefully restored to working condition, placed inside the top of the tower, and can now be seen from more than 30 miles away! The Federal Aviation Administration has recognized the Summersville Lighthouse as an official navigational aid for air traffic.

As an added bonus, since the lighthouse was erected no ocean-going vessels have ran aground in Summersville Lake (ha ha). If you’d like more information, check out

[This story appeared in the September issue of Two-Lane Livin' magazine.]

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