West Virginia Campground Building Unique Inland Lighthouse
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As the guy trying to build a lighthouse on Summersville Lake near Mt. Nebo, W. Va., Steve Keblesh is used to getting some strange looks.
The huge white tube lying on his 60-acre campground, Summersville Lake Retreat, hasn’t helped, the Charleston Daily Mail reported.
“When we first said that we wanted to build a lighthouse, people in the construction and contracting community looked at us like we were nuts,” Keblesh said.
That’s not the case anymore. Keblesh, 52, and his wife, Donna, 51, have worked with students at the Nicholas County Career and Technical Center and the Fayette Institute of Technology to design the lighthouse. Engineering professionals have been overseeing the work of their younger counterparts.
How Keblesh obtained the huge white tube that will act as the body of his lighthouse resulted from a stroke of bad luck for the folks at Invenergy who were building a wind farm on Beech Ridge in Greenbrier County last year.
One night in 2009, a sudden torrential rainfall undermined the foundation of one of Invenergy’s industrial wind turbines. That sent the 72,000-pound tube rolling down a hill at top speed, leveling trees and causing several dents in its steel body, rendering it unusable as a windmill.
Enter Rick Butler, one of the workers who traveled from Canada to build the Beech Ridge wind farm. He was staying at the Kebleshes’ Summersville Lake retreat while he worked on the windmills.
Keblesh was surprised one day when Butler came to him and said his company was trying to get rid of the damaged body of a windmill.
Suddenly building a beacon at the edge of Summersville Lake didn’t seem like such a far-fetched idea.
But why build a lighthouse in Nicholas County? Keblesh has been asked this many times and has a simple answer.
“Well, we just keep getting so many commercial ocean liners bumping into us,” he says with a laugh.
Keblesh actually thinks the lighthouse could bring more tourism to his area in the form of “soft adventuring,” or recreational activities that older folks or children can take part in.
“With that thought in mind, what could be better than climbing a lighthouse?” he said.
After hearing the 100-foot tube was up for grabs, Keblesh set to work at making sure it didn’t get sent to Pittsburgh to be melted down as scrap metal.
The tube sold at 32 cents per pound. At 72,000 pounds, it wasn’t a cheap purchase. The price came to a little more than $23,000.
Keblesh can’t yet estimate the total cost of his project but figures it will hit six figures.
A big part of the cost was incurred in transporting the tube from Greenbrier to Nicholas County.
When the time came to move it and all the wide-load and pilot car permits had been filed with the state Department of Transportation, Keblesh ran into a snag at the New River Gorge Bridge. Traffic had been reduced to one lane because of construction.
An alternative route had to be taken to avoid the bridge, meaning the tube traveled more than 100 miles to Charleston, then Flatwoods and back down to Summersville via U.S. 19.
“At that point we looked at our budget and realized it was shot to heck anyways,” he said.
On a sunny day in June 2010, the Kebleshes watched as a truck toting their newly acquired lighthouse body-to-be backed into its temporary resting place at the campground.
Then the couple reached out to community businesses, offering them the opportunity to buy one of the 120 stairs that will curl into the lighthouse once it is complete. Anyone can purchase part of the spiral staircase, which will have a plaque commemorating the buyer set into each step.
Some stories behind the steps stand out more than others for Keblesh. A few weeks ago, a mother bought one in remembrance of her son, who died three years ago.
Steps are still available, and the proceeds go to the main partners of what is becoming known as The Lighthouse Project: The students in Nicholas and Fayette counties who are responsible for designing and welding the stairs and gallery deck at the top of the structure.
Along with covering the cost of the steel needed to build the stairs and gallery, the Kebleshes plan to establish scholarships for students who have worked on the project.
Joe Hypes, the welding instructor at Nicholas County Career and Technical Center, says his students get real experience only when local businesses step in and offer materials and projects they need help with.
“Obviously we need to do a good job because this will support human life, but we also want it to look good because people will be traveling up and down those steps for years,” Hypes said.
But before a single step could be welded, students in Dan Cutlip’s pre-engineering class at the career and technical center used concepts from algebra, geometry and trigonometry to figure out how long each stair needed to be, with lengths varying as the stairs spiral upward.
They also had to determine how much material would be needed to construct the gallery deck with minimal waste.
Cutlip said his proudest moment will be when he presents the plans his students have come up with to Bill Toney, an engineer with Invenergy who specializes in erecting towers. So far Toney has approved all of the submitted plans.
Aside from the novelty of getting to help build a lighthouse, the students in Cutlip’s class are excited to gain experience in their chosen fields.
“The lighthouse project made me see how trig and math principles can be applied to real life,” said Torli Bush, a junior from Webster County High School who has worked extensively on the lighthouse plans.
Just south of Nicholas County at the Fayette Institute of Technology, Gary Chapman’s drafting class and Roy Neal’s welding students are building what is essentially a steel gazebo that will hold a donated Fresnel lens on the gallery deck at the top of the tower.
Keblesh said the project would take most of 2011. He hopes the lighthouse will be towering 104 feet above his campground overlooking Summersville Lake by next fall.
In the meantime, the giant white tube that was once destined to stand atop a mountain lies on its side at the campground. Upon completion, the lighthouse won’t bear any advertisements or colors because the Kebleshes are trying to keep it classic with a black top and a white body.
The lighthouse will be maintained once it is finished. Visitors will be able to climb it and enjoy the view, but not much else.
“We’ll keep it under perpetual care, but we don’t want it commercialized or anything; you won’t see a single zip line or bungee cord near it,” Keblesh said.
“But so far everyone who has seen the progress we’ve made so far leaves with a smile on their face and plans in their back pocket.”
For more information on the lighthouse project, or to buy a commemorative step, go to www.summersvillelakeretreat.com.