Ventura Breeze

Anacapa Island reopens after six month hiatus

It literally took an army to finish a newly constructed stairwell on Anacapa Island’s eastside landing cove – the only way to access the island. To be exact it took members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, two helicopter pilots, a handful of welders and other national park employees to take the old decrepit stairwell away and bring a new one in.

The old 30-foot staircase, located on a steep 150-foot cliff was deemed unfit last June forcing the temporary closure of the island to visitors. Anacapa is the closest island to the mainland with a travel time of approximately one hour by boat. According to National Park Services, the island plays host to an average of 60,000 visitors a year. Travelers come to visit the island’s popular lighthouse and see wildlife up close including pelicans and sea lions. Hiking and camping is permitted on the island though the island has no potable water supply.

Yvonne Menard from the Park Services Administration stated there are many bird enthusiasts who have been waiting for the island to reopen eager to see a number of bird species including pelicans and cormorants up close and personal.

The task of building a new stairwell 12 miles out at sea became a daunting one for all those involved. According to Karl Bachman, the facility manager of the park the initial plan was to construct the new staircase on the mainland and then transport it by barge to the island. A crane located above the stairs would then be used to move the old staircase and put in place the new one. However, the planning crew quickly learned the crane, which is more than 75 years old, no longer works properly and would also need to be replaced.

It was at this point the Army Corps was called in to help.

With the crane out of commission the crew looked to use a helicopter in order to bring in and hoist the stairwell into place. Finding a helicopter which could lift the excessively heavy 9,000-pound staircase became the crews next hurdle.

Anacapa Island stairs air lifted
Anacapa Island stairs installedOut with the old and in with the new.

In the end a Sikorsky crane helicopter, usually used to dump thousands of gallons of water on wildfires, was commissioned for the task. Welders cut the old staircase as the helicopter utilized a 150-foot cable to fly it back to the Ventura Harbor. There it picked up and flew the newly constructed staircase back out to the island.

It took a pilot manning the helicopter and one on the ground to direct the staircase into place. Helicopter pilot Steve Bligh who was the pilot stationed on land explained that for the staircase to move an inch, the helicopter had to move four feet. This awkward equation combined with wind made for a more than difficult docking mission.

The task was far from simple proven when the staircase crashed into and broke a water pipe resulting in water spewing on welders and other workers below. It took the team a total of four attempts to get the staircase in its place.

“The really amazing part was the ability of the helicopter to stand virtually still while the staircase was being installed,” said Sheldon Brown, publisher of the Ventura Breeze who was on-hand to witness the installation.

The rest of the day was spent welding, bolting and cementing the staircase in place. In the end the project cost approximately $400,000.

The project was described as “one of the most challenging jobs” he had ever been part of by the Army Corps civil engineer Bob Doran.

Anacapa’s six-month closure was the longest any of the islands had been off limits to the public since they became a national park 30 years ago.

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