Discover Michigan: Living the lighthouse life

By: Jennifer Sigouin | Online Only | Published January 11, 2017

 The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is seeking applicants for the Tawas Point Lighthouse Keepers Program. Volunteer keepers spend two weeks leading tours at the lighthouse in exchange for lodging.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is seeking applicants for the Tawas Point Lighthouse Keepers Program. Volunteer keepers spend two weeks leading tours at the lighthouse in exchange for lodging.

Photo provided by RoseAnn Lampasona

Imagine spending two weeks at a historical lighthouse, relaxing to the sound of gentle waves while surrounded by picturesque views of the sun rising over Lake Huron and setting over Tawas Bay.

The experience can be yours — for free — through the Tawas Point Lighthouse Keepers Program. You’ll have to do some work while you’re there, though.

The program, which runs from May 17 through Oct. 17, is currently seeking applicants ages 18 and older who can commit to two consecutive weeks as a volunteer lightkeeper at the lighthouse, located at Tawas Point State Park in East Tawas. Keepers will receive on-site lodging in exchange for conducting guided tours and performing light maintenance duties.

The Tawas Point Lighthouse has been in operation since 1876 and is currently one of 11 nationally accredited museums administered by the Michigan History Center in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division. According to Hillary Pine, northern Lower Peninsula historian for the Michigan DNR, the last official lightkeeper left the lighthouse in 1953, and the building and lens were then maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2001, the Michigan DNR took over the lighthouse and began renovations. In 2003, the lighthouse tower opened to the public, and in 2008, additional exhibits were completed and the volunteer keeper program began.

For past volunteers RoseAnn and Filippo Lampasona, of Clinton Township, the chance to live in a lighthouse was a check off their “bucket list.”

“We’ve always been fascinated by lighthouses,” said RoseAnn.

After Filippo first heard about the program on the radio, the couple quickly sent in an application. They were selected to volunteer in 2015, and they loved the adventure so much that they signed up again and filled in for a week in 2016.

Filippo said their time at the lighthouse was “amazing.”

“The history of the lighthouse makes you learn how important they were,” he said. “It was such a great experience.”

“For me, I felt really great about doing something for the state of Michigan,” added RoseAnn.

During their stay, the Lampasonas led lighthouse tours from noon to 5 p.m. each day. RoseAnn noted that it helps to be a “people person.” She and Filippo volunteered in July — one of the busiest times of the year — so they talked to plenty of visitors, many of whom had traveled from out of state or from other countries.

The couple was also tasked with keeping the building in ship shape, which involved cleaning, sweeping and washing bug-covered windows, among other duties. Another important responsibility was raising and lowering the flag each day, and then putting the flag away each night. Filippo also noted that the lighthouse has a small weather station, so he made daily entries in a weather journal.

RoseAnn said that it was surreal to wake up in a lighthouse, and anyone who volunteers can expect spectacular views, especially from the tower.

“We’ve seen a lot of Michigan lighthouses, and it really is one of the most beautiful,” she said.

Each week, participating keepers provide around 35 hours of service and get two days off. According to Pine, some volunteers stay locally during their time off to enjoy Tawas beaches, shops and other amenities, while others use their downtime to take short road trips to Mackinac Island or other northern Michigan destinations. Filippo, for instance, had a chance to practice his hobby, photography, as the scenic Tawas area provided plenty of photo ops.

Pine said the program is seeking a minimum of two volunteers for each two-week period, although the building can accommodate up to four people if there’s interest. The lightkeeper lodging is on the second story of a dwelling attached to the lighthouse, and includes two bedrooms, a modern kitchen, and a shower and bath.

Pine added that while it’s helpful for volunteers to have a basic knowledge of lighthouses and Michigan history, it is by no means a requirement. And although a lot of the volunteer keepers are retirees, she encourages younger volunteers to apply as well.

“We’re really looking for people who are really up for — and comfortable with — talking to the public,” she said.

Pine noted that there is always a lot of interest in the program, so not everyone will be selected to volunteer the first year they apply. She added that past volunteers have consistently given positive feedback on the program.

“They say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said.

The deadline to apply for the program is Feb 1. Anyone interested should complete and submit the Tawas Point Lighthouse Keeper application, available at www.michigan.gov/tawaslighthouse under the “Lightkeeper Program” link.


Our Discover Michigan series explores Michigan’s most road trip-worthy destinations and events. Where’s your favorite place to travel in the mitten? Leave us a comment or email jsigouin@cangnews.com. We may use your suggestion in an upcoming feature.