JUNEAU (AP) -- Edward McIntosh spent so much time at Five Finger Light over the summer that he began to recognize specific whales and name them.
''I went out in May and stayed until the end of August,'' McIntosh said. ''I got to know all the animals.''
McIntosh and several other Juneau residents wound up lighthouse sitters when, in 1997, the U.S. Coast Guard began seeking nonprofit ''friends'' as caretakers. The lighthouses had been automated and were deteriorating because they were no longer staffed and maintained.
Lease agreements with nonprofit groups allow them to use the buildings and grounds for free as long as they maintain the facility for public access.
Michael and Valerie O'Hare, partners with McIntosh and Jennifer Klein in leasing the historic Five Finger Light and its island, visited for three days while PBS was filming a documentary, and Valerie O'Hare said the film crew was ''blown away'' by the up-close footage they got of humpbacks.
Five Finger Light is on an island in the south entrance to Stephens Passage between Juneau and Petersburg.
McIntosh did get some help from 15 members of the Juneau Lighthouse Association in August. The visitors helped him scrape paint, clean and install safety hand rails.
''The place was closed down in 1984, so pipes have deteriorated. We are redoing the plumbing and patching up mechanical systems,'' McIntosh said.
Other Southeast Alaska lighthouse groups made significant progress with restoration this year.
''It was a great summer. We did all kinds of wonderful things,'' said Renee Hughes of Sentinel Island Lighthouse. ''The most exciting thing was partnering with Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, which sent 14 kids out there for 10 days in June. They painted the tower, improved the access trail from the dock and did a lot of brush clearing and preservation work,'' Hughes said.
She and her husband, Gary Gillette, have a 30-year lease on the lighthouse.
Sentinel Island also gathered attention from a film crew. Odyssey Productions did some filming for future episodes of their ''Legendary Lighthouses'' television series. The new episodes are set to air next fall.
Sentinel Island, just 0.2 miles long, is in the center of Favorite Channel, 25 miles northwest of downtown Juneau.
Hughes and Gillette raise preservation funds through contributions, auctions and a Lighthouse Cruise and Keeper's lunch. They have also begun to rent out the lighthouse at $50 per person per night.
''There's a certain magic to the island,'' Hughes said. ''One day this summer a huge pod of killer whales went by. Waves lap on the beach and it's so peaceful.''
Another couple, Lori L. Telfer and her husband David Benton, have taken on Point Retreat Light, west of Juneau on the northern tip of Admiralty Island's Mansfield Peninsula. Their nonprofit group is called the Alaska Lighthouse Association.
At Five Finger, once restoration is complete, Five Finger will move into its educational phase. ''We envision a whale research facility. Kids all over the world will be able to lock onto our Web site and see humpbacks feeding live,'' O'Hare said.
Each lighthouse has its own membership organization:
--Five Finger Light, 10945 Glacier Highway, Juneau, AK 99801, or on the Web at 5fingerlight.com.
--Sentinel Island Lighthouse, c/o glrrlgalaska.net, or call Renee Hughes at 586-5338. This light is considered part of the Gastineau Channel Historical Society.
--The Alaska Lighthouse Association, which supports Point Retreat Light, can be reached c/o Lori Telfer and David Benton at 364-2410.
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
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