No one mines phosphate from the Peace River any more and ships it out through Port Boca Grande. The mining companies and the big ships are gone. The railroad is a bike path. There are no oil holding tanks on the southernmost shore, only condos, and no fishermen dry their huge nets in the sun. Boca Grande is a vacation and retirement playland now. Few monuments from the old days have survived the fierce hurricanes and fickle economy, but the Coast Guard Range Light still stands.
It’s a tall metal tube, riveted and rusty, propped up by a geometry of white-washed iron beams and rods. It has very little of the romance of a stone or brick lighthouse, one with a great big witch’s hat roof and ornately spiraling ironwork stairs. Instead, the range light looks like a time machine space rocket that went off course 100 years ago and landed nose down in the barrier islands of southwest Florida. But it’s got a certain charm all it’s own and has been saved from the wrecking ball more than once.
I was picking up some essentials at the donut shop in town and struck up a conversation with one of the locals. When I told my new friend I was obsessed with photographing the range light, he told me the Coast Guard was handing it over to a private group on the island and renovation was planned. The group has $1 million and probably needs $1 million more to fix it up.
The light at the top still flicks on and off all night long but it’s been many years since anyone could climb to the top. My friend said that will change once it’s all spiffed up. I’ll definitely climb up to the little deck if it opens to visitors. The island is long and narrow so the views will be lovely — and vertigo-inducing, no doubt. I can’t wait.