Local News

Cruising The Coast: Currituck Lighthouse

Posted May 14, 2004

— Before you head for the beach, WRAL's Morning News is cruising the coast for a look at what is new and changing. In Currituck County, a zoning battle threatens to shut down a popular lighthouse.

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse stands 163-feet-tall, overlooking the north shore of the North Carolina coast. Each year, the lighthouse attracts more than 100,000 visitors. Many pay $6 to climb the 214 steps to the top.

Every 17 seconds, the lighthouse sends out a warning signal. Now, it is facing trouble of its own.

Stewards of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse say they have put millions into preserving the piece of history. County officials say the lighthouse is still out of date.

"We're not trying to shut them down. We're trying to help them to be able to meet the ordinances," county spokeswoman Diane Sawyer said.

Currituck County claims the lighthouse does not have enough parking or restrooms.

"You're going to have 100,000 visitors a year coming, and you only have a handful of parking spaces?" Sawyer said.

"They think there's some sort of giant amount of money waiting to be made here that could be diverted or used in other projects in the county," lighthouse keeper John Birkhold said.

Some locals say the issue goes beyond Port-O-Potties and parking. The county says the issue is not a ploy to gain ownership of the lighthouse.

Last fall, the federal government gave the lighthouse to the Outer Banks Conservationists. The county also wanted it -- to include it as part of the its tourist attractions.

"We've asked them repeatedly to come in and sit down with us so we can work through this issue," Sawyer said.

"Their thing is 'You're not working with us.' Well, that's far from the truth," Birkhold said.

The beloved lighthouse remains in the middle of a bitter custody dispute. If it is not resolved, the lighthouse could close.

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