NEWS

Video: Volunteers keep Thacher Island accessible and inhabitable

Stephanie Silverstein

Less than one mile from Rockport’s rocky coastline lays a small patch of land where people can escape the busyness of life and retreat to a place where they will be surrounded by nature. The only other people around are a hardworking group of volunteers who want nothing more than to preserve the natural beauty of the place they care so deeply for.

Known for its twin lighthouses, Thacher Island is cared for by the Thacher Island Association and keepers who live on the island during the spring, summer, and fall. In 2002, the U.S. Coast Guard deeded the island to the town of Rockport. The north end of the island and the North Tower is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but is managed by the town. The Association makes trips to the island every Wednesday to do work, and on Saturdays to bring visitors to the island.

The rest of the time, the island is inhabited by only a couple of people at a time: the keepers. Lighthouse keepers used to live on the island year-round to operate the lighthouses and keep up with the island, but now that the lighthouses are solar-operated and virtually maintenance free, the keepers are on the island from April through October, working on the buildings and keeping up with the land.

Dottie and George Carroll of Rockport spent six months of the year for six years living on the island as keepers. From April to October, 1986 to 1991, the Carrolls would take care of the island and its structures, day in and day out. They never set foot off the island; they couldn’t. Who would care for it while they were away?

“It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, there’s nature all around. I mean, what else could you want, really?” said Dottie Carroll.

Today, the Carrolls are part of the Thacher Island work crew, returning to their former home-away-from-home every Wednesday. They also serve on the Board of Directors, from dry land back in Rockport.

“What we’re trying to do is help preserve the historical aspect of the island,” Dottie Carroll said. When groups visit the island on Saturdays, Carroll makes herself available to answer any questions they may have and to ensure they get the most out of their trip.

The island provides an ideal day trip for nature enthusiasts, artists, writers, and those who seek an escape from their day-to-day lifestyle. The Thacher Island Association launches boatloads of 15 passengers on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. and Saturdays at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. The trip is free but reservations are required, and can be made by calling 978-546-7697.

Once on the island, visitors can climb the North Tower, explore the trails, watch for birds, and identify the various plants on the island.

Atop the North Tower, one can see as far south as Boston, and on a clear day, as far north as Mount Agamenticus in Maine. On a smaller scale, there are spectacular views of Long Beach, Straightsmouth Island, Eastern Point, and nearly all activity happening on Thacher Island: the work crew clearing paths, mowing the grass, and the International Chimney Corp. working on the South Tower. Visitors will see waves crashing on the rocks on nearly all sides of the island, seagulls nesting, and other visitors exploring the land.

“If I had my choice, I would be here forever and a day,” said Dottie Carroll.

Ann Hernandez and Alan Tomeske are two of the keepers who took over when the Carrolls shifted their volunteer efforts to the mainland. During their first experience as keepers in 1991, they were faced with the No Name Storm, now better known as the Perfect Storm.

Despite the rough conditions they battled, the two were not scared away; they have returned to Thacher Island from their homes in Illinois every year since.