If you missed out on a chance to see the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse up close before the Air Force stopped its free tours more than two years ago, you can put it back on your list of things to do in the New Year. It won’t be free, but a new tour is starting Jan. 8. Tours of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse and other sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will be conducted on Fridays and Saturdays beginning at 8:30 a.m., departing from Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral in air-conditioned buses. The three-hour tour will cost $27 per person. “In addition to doing the tours, we can now go ahead and do some fundraising,” said Bob Merrilees, president of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation. “The lighthouse is very, very popular. When we talk to people they want to get out there to see it.” The foundation had long sought more public access to the lighthouse. But security concerns kept it restricted, and federal budget cuts eliminated the free tour the Air Force had once offered.
Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the 45th Space Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, said in a statement that there has always been interest by the public to visit the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Lighthouse, which is why the wing entered into a partnership with the foundation. The foundation provides the tours, and the wing provides the access. “A lack of access to the lighthouse due to the national threat condition was brought to my attention my very first day in command and I promised to do what I could to reopen access to our historic sites while still ensuring the security of the base and our people,” Monteith said. “I’m happy to say that our team, working hand-in-hand with the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation and NASA, allowed me to keep that promise.” Visitors will also have access to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station through Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex tours. “Additionally, we have partnered with NASA’s Delaware North contractor to provide historic CCAFS tours as a way to allow access to historic sites for folks from around the world who can see where space history began and continues today,” Monteith said.
For years the Air Force offered the tours using its own buses and volunteer tour guides. The free tours, which were conducted Wednesdays and Thursdays, showcased the mission of the 45th Space Wing and focused on the Air Force space program, with visits to several launch complexes, the Air Force Space and Missile Museum and the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. The tours were stopped after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, then reinstated only to be eliminated again. It was in June 2013 when the tours became the victim of federal budget cuts. Sequestration at the time also caused the cancellation of Air Force Thunderbird performances, the suspension of the Tops in Blue entertainment group tour and the unpaid furloughs of Air Force civilian employees.
The foundation has contracted with Sunward Tours to do the lighthouse tours. In addition to the lighthouse, the tours include stops at Air Force Space and Missile History Center and at two historic launch complexes, as well as a drive by others. The tour also includes admission to Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral.
Merrilees, a retired Coast Guard Rear Admiral, said the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse will provide a guide on the bus in addition to one from Sunward Tours, but that the foundation will not make money from the tours. “The tours that we are going to do will be helpful to us because it will give us exposure,” he said. “The Air Force has been very helpful to us.” Buy Photo The 151foot tall lighthouse is the only fully operational lighthouse owned and operated by the Air Force. The heritage of the lighthouse dates back to before the Civil War. It was 1848 when the original, 60-foot version was built. Twenty years later, the second, taller lighthouse tower was built. The threat of shoreline erosion prompted the federal government to dismantle the lighthouse and move it about a mileandahalf inland in 1894, where it remains today.
The light, which comes on automatically at dark, flashes two times in 4.8 seconds, then is dark for 14.8 seconds before flashing again. It has a visible range of more than 20 miles. Renovations in 2006 needed after hurricanes Frances and Jeanne accelerated the deterioration from age, salt air and leaks were done as part of the preparations to allow more public access to the lighthouse. Now the foundation is preparing to move ahead with fundraising of about $1 million to build replicas of several lighthouse keepers cottages that were on the grounds of the lighthouse. “We now have the authority from the Air Force to go ahead and build,” Merrilees said. “It’s been 13 years in the making.”
If you go:
Cape Canaveral Lighthouse 3-hour tours Fridays and Saturdays 8:30 a.m. beginning at Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral Tickets are $27 per person.
For ticket and information call SunWard Tours at (321) 453-3994. You can make your tour reservations online at www.CanaveralLighthouse.com.
R. Norman Moody, FLORIDA TODAY
The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation sincerely appreciates the continued support of Florida Today in our effort to restore the lighthouse grounds to its historic state.
Additional information can be found on the Lighthouse Tours page.