The Bear River lighthouse in Smiths Cove, N.S., will soon again be visible to people on the water or who are crossing the bridge into the Digby County community.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 2001 and — until recently — it was completely hidden by trees. But last year, the Municipality of Digby took ownership of the lighthouse and the Smith's Cove Historical Society is in the process of restoring it.
"The response has been phenomenal. The broad community is very supportive of what we're trying to do here," said Donalda MacBeath, president of the historical society.
The goal is to create a park, MacBeath said. The first phase involves restoring the salt shaker-style lighthouse and clearing land. The second phase is establishing a walking path and the third phase is landscaping and putting up information boards on the history of the lighthouse.
The group was able to fund this project through municipal and provincial grants, and fundraising. MacBeath estimated the project would cost $72,000. She said they only need around $10,000 to reach that goal.
Things were quiet at the lighthouse on Saturday, but there were clear signs work had been done. Scaffolding covered part of the structure and the old white paint has been stripped away. A nearby trailer was filled with debris and some trees had been marked with orange ribbons to let workers know which ones not to remove.
MacBeath said the group hoped to accomplish everything within three to five years and they're on track to complete the first phase before the end of this year. She said the second phase could begin as early as spring 2023.
"This is beyond our wildest expectation that the project has been able to advance this far," MacBeath said. "Personally it warms my heart to go out to the lighthouse and see it restored and I think if you see some of the postings that have been online, the community is definitively of the same mind."
Work to restore the lighthouse began in August. In a newsletter last year, the Municipality of Digby said the "state of limbo between ownership has been stressful on the lighthouse."
"After many years of neglect the exterior shows decay. The vegetation around the lighthouse has grown unabated and the road leading to the site is nearly unpassable."
Sandy Rudolph, a board member of the historical society and an avid sailor who spent summers in Smiths Cove as a child, said it's unlikely the lighthouse would have survived much longer.
"The lighthouse ... was in such disarray, the contractor — when he was doing the upper portion of it, it had so much rot that he said in good wind, we probably would have lost the entire top, so that might have been something that would've happened this winter if we hadn't have got control and did the work on it," Rudolph said.
Rudolph said the original lens for the lighthouse was stolen sometime after it was decommissioned and it's something they're looking to eventually replace.
"I got in touch with the coast guard and they're looking for a lens that may be in one of their shops for us," Rudolph said.
"And we're we're hopeful at this point of getting a lens back that we can actually put up there and we're also going to be putting in a solar light. So it will be a light form for viewing, not for navigation ... to make it as original as possible."
Rudolph said the contractor is two to three weeks away from finishing.
"That'll bring it back to its original glory," Rudolph said.
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