For one solitude-loving park ranger, a small Florida key and its refurbished historic lighthouse give a whole new twist to “home sweet home”.
When it comes to getting away from it all, few places on the American mainland can compare to the Florida Keys; from secession attempts and eccentric artists to improbable tales of hidden pirate booty, the Keys have a colorful character to match the islands’ vivid tropical hues. The chain of islands at the tail end of the state typically garners all of the attention, but along Florida’s western Gulf Coast, there are plenty of fascinating keys to be explored as well.
Found close to the city of Tarpon Springs, one small group of islands offers an incredible history and scenic beauty, drawing in visitors from across the country on the rare occasions public access is allowed. For Floridian Chris Berner, however, Anclote Key and its historic lighthouse are simply his unique home. Living a hermetic existence on the island all year round seems to agree with Mr. Berner, who has held the post for six years, and is the second keeper on Anclote since lighthouse was refurbished and relit in 2003. After decades of vandalism and exposure to the elements, it took a lot of effort to bring the lighthouse back to life.
After Anclote’s lighthouse was decommissioned in 1985 and it was battered until only a rusty iron shell remained, a dedicated group of locals raised more than $1 million for its restoration, and the Friends of Anclote Key also successfully lobbied to have it added to the National Register of Historic Places. A lighthouse keeper’s house was also built, with 21st century touches like solar panels and a reverse-osmosis water filter. These modern amenities aside, a lighthouse keeper’s job is still a tough one, according to Mr. Berner, who dubs himself the “Lone Ranger”.
Life on a remote island takes a certain skill set, one which he’s honed throughout his life; as a child, his parents operated a small motel in Clearwater Beach, a popular tourist destination on another Gulf Coast barrier island. Creativity, ingenuity and a “make-do” attitude were important lessons learned while helping run the motel, and on Anclote Key, they are an essential part of his success. As the park ranger, lighthouse keeper and visitor services guide, his tasks run the gamut from mechanical repairs and maintenance to coordinating tours of the lighthouse. “I have to do everything that needs being done out here,” he told Tampa Bay Online in a recent interview.
And, for the most part, he does it entirely on his own. Despite struggling at times with isolation, Mr. Berner has kept his sense of humor – adorning his living room is a volleyball like that of Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway, complete with a red handprint. For him, he said, the occasional bout of loneliness and the many challenges of island life are, in the end well worth it. “I’m living on a tropical island,” he told the online newspaper. “Where else could I do that without being a multimillionaire? I live on a tropical island close to home and get paid for it.”
Read more about this story: Tampa Bay Online