Originally built to guide ships when the New Orleans Lakefront was bustling with commerce, the historic New Basin Canal Lighthouse is now being used as a beacon to lure people back to Lake Pontchartrain, and the long-running campaign to fully bring the landmark back is now in the home stretch.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed the lighthouse and the wreckage became a somber symbol of the storm’s devastation. But since 2009, the nonprofit Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has been rebuilding it as a tourist attraction, as the headquarters for its environmental outreach programs and as a symbol of rebirth along the city’s huge but largely ignored lakefront.
“So many of the things we remember about New Orleans ‘ain’t dere no more,’ as the song says, and this is something that is there,” says Sheila Englert, director of development and outreach for the foundation, which is an advocacy agency for the lake and its basin.
The project will open the lighthouse to the public for the first time in its history, with an interactive museum and an educational program focused on the natural history and heritage of the area.
The first lighthouse on the site was built in 1839 to mark the entrance of the New Basin Canal, the massive shipping channel dug that was later filled in. New and updated lighthouses were built there over the years, though the one that Katrina destroyed dated back to the 1890s and served as a Coast Guard station until 2000.
The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation held a ceremony to relight the New Basin Canal Lighthouse’s beacon this fall, and the group hopes to finish the project early in 2013. Fundraising is still underway and Englert says a buy-a-brick campaign has been a successful way for individuals to contribute.
“We lost a generation that knew about the lake. People like me, we grew up on the lake, going there with our families and getting poor boys and picnicking on the lake, but the next generation doesn’t know about that,” she says. “And really that’s part of our mission, to get people to enjoy the lake and feel some ownership for it.”
For project updates, visit SaveOurLake.org.