Lighthouse license plates pay off for WSU Island County extension

The Admiralty Head Lighthouse license plate is a money maker for WSU Extension of Island County’s environmental programs. -
The Admiralty Head Lighthouse license plate is a money maker for WSU Extension of Island County’s environmental programs.
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It was a stretch – an ambitious fund-raising idea. But the big thinking has paid off for Washington State University Extension of Island County.

A special vehicle license plate conceived in Island County and sold statewide is generating about $7,000 a month for Lighthouse Environmental Programs, a tax-exempt organization that raises funds for three Extension programs housed at Admiralty Head Lighthouse at Fort Casey.

Since Washington Lighthouses went on sale in 2006, some 3,500 Washington drivers have purchased the distinctive plate for their cars, trucks, motorcycles and recreational vehicles.

More than two years into the plate’s life, proceeds in early June stood at $141,000 and climbing. The dollars come from additional fees the Department of Licensing collects for each special license plate that sells or renews, of which it allocates $28 to the sponsoring organization as a charitable contribution.

“The license plate is a lifeline for us,” said Don Meehan, Extension director for Island County. His office operates three nonprofit programs housed at Admiralty Head Lighthouse -- WSU Lighthouse Docents, WSU Beach Watchers and WSU Waste Wise Volunteers.

“Every year we scramble frantically to piece together the funding to keep these programs going. I don’t know what we’d do without the license plate, as well as the many friends who support our programs with their charitable gifts.”

Gloria Wahlin of Clinton, who first suggested the plate in 2005 as an out-of-the-box fund-raising idea, is program coordinator for the lighthouse. “Our volunteers love lighthouses, love history and are passionate about this place where we live,” she said. “The license plate’s success is a sweet victory for them.”

Wahlin knew that Coupeville artist Janet Orso’s design for the plate would be popular. “We kept hearing comments like, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ I had a good feeling.”

Lighthouse Environmental Programs in 2005 sold the state on a proposal to allocate 75 percent of the license plate’s income to Island County programs and set aside 25 percent in a grant fund for other lighthouses in Washington kept open to the public by nonprofit groups.

It will also help fund restoration of the lighthouse’s fourth order Fresnel lens, in a community partnership with Washington State Parks and Keepers of Admiralty Head Lighthouse, the membership group that raises money for lighthouse restoration projects. The $23,000 project will receive $2,000 of license plate funds.

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