After a less than enjoyable stint as camp hosts at a State Park in California, coming to Heceta Head Lighthouse in Oregon has renewed our joy for volunteering. Also, we now realize that we prefer interpretive volunteering over campground operations. It is said that there is no better way to learn about a subject than by teaching it. Last summer we learned a lot about birds and the history of the Outer Banks, NC, by volunteering at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. In just a few short weeks at Heceta Head Lighthouse on the Central Oregon Coast, we have a heightened appreciation for historic lighthouses and a firm foundation of understanding about the history of the Oregon Coast and Pacific Northwest, in general.
Heceta Head Lighthouse is one of nine historic lighthouses on the Oregon Coast. It is said to be one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country, largely due to its scenic perch on a rugged headland. The lighthouse was rededicated last year after an extensive two-year renovation and is now in its full glory. The two ton 1st order Fresnel lens, the largest of its kind, is completely intact and is a masterpiece of 19th century design and engineering, with all the beauty and craftsmanship of high art. Built in the 1890s to provide a navigational aide for what was known as the “dark coast,” a 120 mile gap between lighthouses, it was and still is remote. The lighthouse keepers at the time had a lot of responsibility and work maintaining the light, but the real effort and toil was simply living on this wild and rugged frontier. Today, the lighthouse and keeper’s home are easily accessible and visible from the Pacific Coast Highway. It is open everyday for tours and staffed almost entirely by volunteers, which is us this month.
The Oregon State Park system is very accommodating to RVing volunteers. Heceta Head volunteers are given a free campsite at the beautiful and relaxed, Carl G. Washburne State Park just a couple of miles away. Here, volunteers can have a pick of the full hook-up sites, access to a private laundry room and clean wash rooms, and even mail delivered to your door. The only downside, or upside, is that there is no cell service or TV reception. Unlike most park systems, Oregon only requires a 1 month commitment, which is perfect for folks who don’t like to stay in places too long. Volunteers are given an hour and half crash course on the lighthouse and its history, an informational booklet, and are thrown right in with other volunteers giving tours, almost immediately. It is pretty easy to pick up and feel like an expert in just a week or two.
On a more subjective note, we have found the highlights to be plenty. The campground is located in between two small towns that “bookend” what is considered to be the prettiest drive on the coast. The charming town of Yachats happily furnished us a library card at its independent library, which we have made very good use of. There are at least half dozen scenic trails in the area for hiking, one at the campground that I used, along with the beach, for a 4 mile running loop (awesome!). The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is a short drive away and offers nearly unrivaled scenery. The view from the lighthouse has provided us a visual feast with Gray Whales spouting, Sea Lions sunning, and Bald Eagles terrorizing a colony of nesting Murres (a small penguin like bird that lives most of its life at sea). The interactions with the public and other volunteers have been almost entirely pleasant, and while the weather is variable in June, it has been more than fair. Indeed, this is one of the rare jobs where we have felt more relaxed leaving work than when we arrived.
If you have any questions regarding volunteering, we will be happy to share our experiences.