ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph lighthouses continue to grow as a major tourist draw, commissioners heard Monday.
Kate Ulrey, in her first year coordinating the open hours and tours for the Heritage Museum, said the lighthouses had expanded hours this summer, and were open around 50 days, about double from last year.
They attracted 7,064 visitors, making it the third-most popular St. Joseph destination, behind Silver Beach and the carousel, according to TripAdvisor. There were 3,350 brave souls who made the climb to the top of the inner light, with the 1,000th climber on June 29. On Labor Day the lighthouse had 400 visitors, and 200 made the climb. Those who made it to the top received a commemorative sticker.
This was made possible due to more than 400 volunteer hours, Ulrey said, with seven regulars and nine additional helpers who staffed the lighthouse on Wednesdays, weekends and special days, such as the summer solstice, Krasl Art Fair and Tri-State Regatta.
The volunteers were “vital” to running the lighthouse tours this year, Ulrey said, and she is hoping to recruit more for next summer. One volunteer flew kites from the tower, and another posted flags. Kids were able to construct their own lighthouses with magnetic stickers, and learn why it’s windier at the top using feathers.
The lighthouse saw eight private tours, including two large bus tours, three wedding proposals and a wedding photo shoot. They mapped visitors from around the world, many from the Midwest, and others from as far away as Portugal, Brazil, France, German and Canada.
“It really became a welcome center, which wasn’t expected,” Ulrey said. Many people made their first stops in town there, and took brochures for St. Joseph and Benton Harbor attractions. Media attention came from as far away as an Australian magazine. Social media also helped spread the word. Silver Harbor Brewing Company, the Livery and Biggby coffee provided fundraising support.
Revenue is approaching $20,000 for the year, Ulrey said. The Heritage Center receives the first $10,000 in revenue, and any amount over that is divided between the city and the Heritage Museum, at 50 percent for the fee for climbing the tower, and 25 for private tours.
The last tour was Oct. 10, and Ulrey expects to have the final amount going to the city by Dec. 1. She said she would like to be open even more hours in 2020.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak