Ram Island stewards cope with storm damage

Fri, 02/23/2024 - 8:45am

    Missing: lighthouse walkway. Last seen Jan. 10 at Ram Island.

    The Jan. 10 storm that blasted the Maine coast took a piece of Boothbay region maritime history. The storm destroyed the lighthouse walkway at the 1883 Ram Island Light Station and damaged the island’s landing area.

    “That was a lot of effort and a lot of planning and expense and permitting and everything to put (the walkway) up,” said Bob Ryan, executive director of the Grand Banks Schooner Museum Trust that stewards the island. “I always kind of considered that that could be at risk in a bad storm. But yeah, there it is. So disappointing.”

    Ryan said he found out about the damage after someone took a video Jan. 11 and realized the walkway was gone. "So, it's kind of you saw it, and then it wasn't there,” he said. 

    The 214-foot walkway, a reconstruction of the original, was installed in 2002 to connect the five-acre island to the adjacent light tower. Its piers supported five 40-foot sections and one 14-foot section. Ryan said the process, from designing and fabrication on shore to installation on the island, took several months. “Regarding costs ... let’s just say it wasn’t inexpensive,” he said. 

    The original walkway had collapsed and was subsequently removed by the Coast Guard in the 1970s as part of its own restoration efforts, according to the Trust. Currently, the Trust stewards the island, lighthouse and other buildings, and the Ram Island Light Station is on the National Register of Historic Places. However, the Coast Guard maintains the light operation, which was automated in 1965. Ryan said the Coast Guard still has access to the light by way of a ladder on the north side of the tower, and there are no plans to rebuild the walkway.

    “I think if you were going to put it back, if you wanted to think about the current situation with whatever sea states are happening, you probably want to beef it up. And it would be a very expensive proposition.”

    Instead, Ryan said the Trust wants to focus its efforts on restoring the landing area for the island, including another walkway. He said he has not gotten out to the island to assess the full extent of the damage but knows it is an issue.

    Ryan said the island was tricky to get to even when the landing wasn't damaged. He said the repairs may be an opportunity to improve the landing but he doesn't want to rush and take unnecessary risks.

    “We’ll get out there when the weather breaks,” he said. “It's an unmanned flight station and it's a mile offshore. We get to it when it's good and nice weather and handy to get to.”

    In the meantime, Ryan said the island is not closed to the public. However, he said visitors go at their own risk as it has always been under the Trust’s care. He added he does not think the storm damaged the lighthouse, lightkeeper’s house and other buildings on the island, which holds a special place for him.

    “The best part of the state of Maine is out there on the water,” he said. “It's just natural. It's a wonderful spot. And being on the island you just get a great sense of, I don't know, whatever that is. History, and all that. It's all wrapped up. Nature, history, it's all there.”