How To Become A Summer Lighthouse Keeper in Michigan
Lighthouse Keeper Programs for Work Campers and Seasonal Workers
The job of a Lighthouse Keeper is anything but your typical 9-5 office job. In fact, it’s not your typical job by any means and was actually one of the hardest jobs just 100 years ago, with the need to spend extended periods on a small parcel of land usually in the middle of the water, with sailors’ lives depending on your reliability and faithful attention to keeping the light lit.
Working 24-hour shifts, 7 days a week was the typical Lighthouse Keeper schedule and allowed for each Keeper to light the tower’s lamp each night before dusk and make sure it stayed lit until the sun came up the next morning. In addition, their jobs required them to take care of the whole lighthouse station and that meant preforming light construction, painting, landscaping, mechanical repair and much more all while making sure sailors had safe passage.
Work Camping Jobs at 6 Michigan Lighthouses with onsite camping or housing opportunities!
Common Job Duties for Lighthouse Keepers
• Light the lamp at sunset and keep it burning until sunrise.
• Trim the wicks of the lamp so they don’t smoke when lit.
• Clean the windows of the lantern room every day.
• Shine the brass in the lighthouse.
• Sweep the floors and lighthouse stairs daily.
• Clean tower windows.
• Paint, clean and do minor repair work
• Maintain mechanical equipment as directed.
• Maintain Keeper log book and record daily activities.
• Take weather readings every day and record.
• Weed the walkways.
• Maintain the grounds.
• Lend assistance to ships and sailors in distress, when needed.
• Keep inventory of lighthouse equipment and fuel.
• Maintain light station boat launch.
• Keep boathouse clean and organized.
• Provide visitors with tour of light station as needed.
• Stack wood properly in woodsheds.
• Plant and tend personal garden as needed.
But the days of these types of Lighthouse Keeper Jobs are long gone…
Today many states have lighthouses that offer a Keeper program run by non-profits whose main goal is to preserve their history. These programs are run in different ways but the overall general theme seems to be Keeper for a fee or donation or membership, meaning you’ll pay a relatively small fee to participate in the program.
Members of the public are invited to volunteer at historic lighthouses for short terms of a few days to several weeks, as supporting members of the non-profits that operate them. Fees can range from less than $50 to over $100, but each provides the operating organization with valuable funds to fuel the day to day costs of keeping these pieces of history alive and open to the public!
In this article I’d like to feature several of the Lighthouse Keeper programs I found in midwestern state of Michigan which borders four of the five Great Lakes! While the number of actual remaining lighthouses is unclear, based on counting those with significant damages, I would estimate there are fewer than 200 remaining and less than a dozen with Lighthouse Keeper positions of any kind. If taking a position as a Keeper is something you’ve always dreamed of or maybe just realized was something you want to do, jump at the chance to participate in one of the following programs, as space is extremely limited.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to spend a few weeks on an island as a Lighthouse Keeper?
Imagine the serenity of being totally isolated in the middle of the water, with just you, your spouse, a good friend or maybe your family.
And while not all lighthouses are technically on islands miles off the coast, taking a few weeks to work at one of Michigan’s beautiful historic lighthouses this year could be an amazing journey for an adventurous Work Camper couple, single or family who wants to switch things up with a job that’s far from being a traditional camp host and will supply a lifetime of campfire stories to share at will.
Michigan has one of our nation’s most active waterways with over 3200 miles of coastlines. So, it’s really no surprise that they would have the most lighthouses out of all 50 states, which are still used as waypoints and landmarks for sailors, history buffs and tourists alike.
Most of Michigan’s lighthouses are owned by organizations or private citizens who have turned them into a bed and breakfasts, museums or conduct seasonal tours.
The few Lighthouse Keeper programs that still exists are definitely worth looking into for job openings but be forewarned that each one is run completely separate and are designed individually.
Lighthouse Programs with RV Camping
Lighthouse Keeper Programs are few and far between but finding one with RV camping on property is like finding a needle in a haystack!
Programs like the one offered at Forty Mile Point Lighthouse and Crisp Lighthouse allows for Keepers to use their own RV’s as on-site living quarters, which provide all the comforts of home, while still taking advantage of an incredible opportunity to live the life of a Lighthouse Keeper at a historic property.
Forty Mile Point, Rogers City
Located inside the Presque Isle County’s Lighthouse Park, Forty Mile Point Lighthouse actually includes the lighthouse museum, gift shop and Calcite Pilot House which are open to the public from Memorial Day Weekend to Mid-October each year. Normal operating hours are from Tuesday – Saturday 10 am to 4 pm or Noon to 4 pm on Sundays. The lighthouse is operated by the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse Society which is dedicated to its restoration and preservation.
This Keeper program hosts 4 Lighthouse Keepers at all times and they request all Keepers commit to a minimum stay of 2 weeks. During your stay, Keepers are usually allowed to coordinate the schedule by themselves to make sure all hours are covered, and each Keeper has one day off per week, in addition to Monday when the property is closed. It’s not uncommon to have groups of school children, adult organizations and clubs, reunion parties, as well as birthday and wedding celebrations on-site, so unlike other lighthouse properties, this particular program is well used and visited.
All Light Keepers are required to supply their own RVs for on-site RV camping during their commitments at Forty Mile Point. There are four fully self-contained RV camping spots onsite for Keepers use, which are located south of the on-site pavilion. Two RV spaces are reserved for current Keepers and two are reserved for the incoming Keepers, which allows for a smooth transition. Tents are not allowed on property.
Main Duties for Lighthouse Keeper at Forty Mile Point
• Welcoming visitors.
• Learn and provide historical information about the museum.
• Operating and managing the gift shop, light house museum and the pilot house.
• Sweeping floors, sidewalks and tower stairs as needed.
• Stock items in the gift shop and keep it well maintained.
• Light cleaning duties including dusting, vacuuming and trash removal.
• Public Speaking.
• Operate cash register and credit card machine.
• Activate and de-activate the security system daily.
Things To Know About Forty Mile Point
• Small pets are allowed on-site, as long as they are on a 6ft leash.
• Food and beverages are not allowed in the gift shop.
• Excessive alcohol consumption is not allowed.
• Campfires are only allowed in the provided fire rings.
Contact Info for Forty Mile Point
Phone: (989) 372-6090
Crisp Point Lighthouse
In 1876, Crisp Point Lighthouse was one of just four Lifesaving stations set up for service along the “Shipwreck Coast” of Lake Superior. Formerly known as Station #10, it soon took the name of Cristopher Crisp, its second keeper who served from 1878-1890. After almost being completely lost to history, Don & Nellie Ross formed the Crisp Point Light Historical Society in an effort to preserve the main tower. Today Crisp Point Lighthouse is operated by the Crisp Point Light Historical Society (CPLHS), a non-profit organization whose mission is to restore and preserve the lighthouse for future generations!
Operating a Lighthouse Keeper program to keep the facility staffed for visitor access to the tower and the visitor center, CPLHS seeks volunteers to donate 8 hours of their time, daily, for 1-5 days spans. Daily operation at this lighthouse is said to have busy days with a variety of guests and peaceful nights that provide fantastic stargazing!
The typical schedule is 10am-6pm with the ability to host groups of 2-4 Keepers at a time, who are welcome to have children, although they do not count as Keepers and use the primitive camping spot onsite for their RV.
Main Duties for Lighthouse Keepers at Crisp Point Lighthouse
• Open the tower and Visitor Center for guests to access.
• Greet visitors, sell Crisp Point related merchandise and answer questions.
• Provide information about the lighthouse and the Historical Society.
• Pick up debris and other items found on the grounds.
• Sweep and clean lighthouse and Visitor Center building as needed.
• Clean and restock restrooms as needed.
• Sweep boardwalk as needed.
• Restock merchandise containers with extra stock.
Things To Know About Job Openings at Crisp Point Lighthouse
• You are not required to stay at the lighthouse to volunteer as a Keeper. In town lodging and camping options are close by.
• There is a cement pad near the visitor center, where RVs that are self-contained can park for the duration of their stay.
• Drinking water is not available onsite. Prepare to bring your own!
• Electricity is not available for personal use. Prepare to bring a generator.
• Trashcans/dumpster are not available onsite.
• A landline is available for use at the visitor center.
• Buildings are not heated.
• Pets are welcome but need to be leashed.
• BBQ grill and campfire pit are available onsite.
Crisp Point accepts applications for prospective keepers on a first come first serve basis, starting each year in November, but are currently still looking for a few dates for 2019!
To apply for the Keeper program, you must purchase a membership with CPLHS, which are $20-30 per year, and contact Jamie Rolfe with the Historical Society, to schedule your time on the Keeper schedule.
Contact Info for Crisp Point Lighthouse
Phone: Jamie Rolfe 616-204-1729
Light Keeper Programs with On-site Housing
Regardless of if you have an RV or not, working at a lighthouse might still be something adventurous you want to experience.
If this sounds like you, then the following Lighthouse Keeper Programs are more typical than those that have onsite camping options. These programs provide on-site housing for the Keeper’s use during their commitment.
Accommodations will vary with each property, but you can expect at the very least to have a basic indoor sleeping area. Some properties will boast full refurbished units with bunk beds, sleeper sofa for guests, fresh paint and indoor plumbing.
South Fox Island Light Station
South Fox Light Station is 20 miles off shore in the middle of Lake Michigan. Funds were first appropriated for its construction on March 2, 1876 in an effort to provide sailors with the ability to make night crossing and protect anchorage in the shadow of the island.
Sitting at the southern tip of the property, which also includes privately owned acres, the South Fox Light Station contains 115 acres and houses 7 original structures. The station is maintained by the Fox Island Lighthouse Association (FILA), which is a volunteer non-profit group that is dedicated to the preservation of the Light Station through community involvement.
Working in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, FILA strives to maintain historical accuracy and welcomes volunteer Lighthouse Keepers during the summer months. Commitments of 2, 3, or 4 weeks can help keep buildings open to the public and provide tours for visitors.
Living as a Keeper on South Fox Island means spending 2-4 weeks on an remote island where you have the option to sleep inside the Keepers living quarters or pitch a tent on a beautiful island and enjoy the great outdoors!
It also means keeping busy with work that could always be done. From being docents to occasional visitors, to performing ground maintenance, painting, beach grooming and much more- there is always something for Keepers to do.
This position is well suited for those who like to be left to enjoy beautiful areas, without daily chit chat with neighbors, luxuries like refrigeration, running water, and flush toilets.
Main Duties for Lighthouse Keepers at the South Fox Island Light Station
• Keep watch light station and other buildings.
• Complete small projects like painting and light carpentry.
• Maintain property landscape by cutting grass and clearing brush.
• Open buildings for tours visitors who will arrive by water.
• Cots in rooms available for up to 6 or you can bring a tent. This is a volunteer position there is no pay.
Things To Know About South Fox Island Light Station
• You are required to live on-site during your whole commitment.
• The position requires the ability to climb stairs.
• This is an isolated off-grid location.
• There is no electric on site.
• There is no drinking water on the island. Bring a water filter or bottles.
• Solar is available to charge phones.
• A generator is provided for use with tools.
• Water transportation is available to and from the island by FILA
• FILA requires a $200 deposit to hold your position. It is refundable upon arrival.
If you’re interested in volunteering at the South Fox Light Station, please note there are many great RV parks in Leelanau County, where you could easily stay for a few weeks or a month and explore the area in between weeks.
Contact Info for South Fox Island Light Station
Catherine Allchin: 231-883-7645 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Phil Von Voigtlander: 231-640-0054 or Philfvon@gmail.com
Tawas Point Lighthouse
Formerly known as Ottawa Point after Chief O-ta-was, who was the leader of the Siginaw band of Chippewas, Tawas Point Lighthouse stood forty-five feet tall with a six-foot base at construction back in 1850! The first Keeper, Sherman Wheeler lived in a 5-room brick dwelling on-site and was paid about $350 as an annual salary.
Located inside the Tawas Point State Park, Tawas Point Lighthouse attracts visitors from around the world, with two historic shipwrecks sitting right off the shoreline! With ample opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and ideal conditions for swimming- Tawas Point is a popular point of interest for travelers from May-October each year.
The Lighthouse Keepers Program is operated by the Michigan History Center (MHC) which provides volunteers with a unique opportunity to live onsite, while helping to preserve and present its history of one of Michigan’s most notable lighthouses to the public. Keepers serve in teams of two to four people at a time, which can be a combination of friends and/or family, and the program runs from May 1 through October 29 each year.
This program provides on-site housing in a second story Keeper’s quarters that are provided for your use during your stay. Two bedrooms, with sleeping for up to four adults along with a full kitchen, bathroom and free parking is provided.
Main Duties for Lighthouse Keepers at Tawas Point Lighthouse:
• Provide tours to the public Thursday-Monday, at scheduled times.
• Must be comfortable with public speaking.
• Greet visitors in a friendly manner.
• Provide information about the lighthouse and the surrounding area.
• Basic facility maintenance.
• Trash removal and routine cleaning tasks.
• Maintaining outside walkways and windows.
Things To Know About Tawas Point Lighthouse:
• Must be able to serve a full 2-week term.
• A $75 per person fee is required.
• Keepers must be 18 years or older.
• Pets are not allowed.
• Keepers must be willing to provide tours five days a week.
• Typical schedule is about 35 hours per week.
• A background check is required.
• Keepers must be able to climb the 85‐step lighthouse tower.
Contact Information for Tawas Point Lighthouse:
Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association
The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association (SPLKA) operates four lighthouse stations on Lake Michigan: Big Sable Point, Little Sable Point, Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouses, and White River Light Station.
Each property offers a Lighthouse Keeper Program for members of the public from May- October of each year. They offer clean and very comfortable accommodations at the Ludington State Park and Silver Lake State Park for those interested in the program. During your 1-2 week term of service, you can enjoy beautiful forests and magnificent sand dunes, while helping to preserve and promote a historic property.
SPLKA seeks to preserve, promote and educate the general public on the lighthouse history and make them open for public access. They invite the public to become members of SPLKA for a small donation and take part in the Resident Keeper Program at one of their four beautiful lighthouses at Big Sable, Little Sable, Ludington North Breakwater Light and White River Light Station.
Lighthouse Keepers with SPLKA serve for a specific tour of duty, lasting either one or two weeks. At Big Sable Point this time is set for two weeks where the keepers live on-site in the keeper quarters on the upper floor of the house. For Little Sable Point the typical tour of duty is just one week long and the keeper will stay in a residence at the Silver Lake State Park. For Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse, the typical tour of duty is also one week long, and keepers will stay in a residence at Ludington State Park. Lighthouse Keepers are also needed for weekend coverage at the White River Lighthouse location.
Main Duties for Lighthouse Keepers at Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association
• Complete training and education on the history of the lighthouse.
• Greeting visitors and answering questions.
• General upkeep of the lighthouse and grounds
• Provide tours to the public.
• Gift shop and admissions sales.
• Selling SPLKA merchandise.
Things To Know Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association
• Must be 18 years or older.
• Pets are not allowed for these positions.
• White River Lighthouse does not provide lodging.
• Membership is $60 per person or $100 per couple for a full year.
Contact Info for Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association