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Preservation Work Begins on Cape Lookout Lighthouse

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CAPE LOOKOUT — The spotlight has been shining on Buxton where theCape Hatteras lighthousehas been successfully moved to its new location. Now, there is another beacon along the Outer Banks that needs preservation.

With its distinctive black and white diagonal checkerboard daymark, theCape Lookout lighthouseis one of the most unique lighthouses.

"The way the pattern is set up, depending on which way you stand with it, you will either see a white lighthouse with dark diamonds, or a dark lighthouse with white diamonds," says Karen Duggan of theNational Park Service.

But the diamonds are beginning to look a little rough. Inside, the 15-story tower is even rougher. Mortar has cracked, metal has rusted, and during thunderstorms the rain seeps in.

"As metal rusts, it expands and that builds up tremendous pressure that cracks bricks, cracks masonry, cracks granite. And that's what's happening up and down the tower," says Cpt. Nick Johnston of theU.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard has begun a 3-month, $80,000 project to make the beacon shine. Metal is being repaired, paint is being touched up and 1,500 bricks are being replaced. The tower's lightning prevention system is also being replaced to protect it during a storm.

The last time the Coast Guard worked on the lighthouse was in 1995, when it repainted the traditional black and white diamonds.

Coast Guard officials admit the Cape Lookout lighthouse is not maintained as well as it was before it became automated, back when there was a keeper living there at all times.

The lighthouse is no less important now, though, even in the age of high-tech navigational systems.

"There's nothing like looking up and seeing a tower and saying 'Well you know, that tower is right there. I know exactly where I'm at.' That tower is that important," Johnston says.

The repair work at Cape Lookout should be done by the end of September. Since it sits about a mile and a half from the ocean, erosion does not pose the same threat as it did at Cape Hatteras. There are no plans to move this lighthouse anytime soon.