PORT AUSTIN REEF LIGHT, Mich. - The allure of lighthouses spans centuries, and not just for seafarers.

Since 2000, about 120 no longer critical to the Coast Guard in 22 states and Puerto Rico have been acquired at no cost by government entities and nonprofits, or sold to individuals eager to preserve the landmarks. Upkeep was too expensive and their usefulness was in decline with the advent of GPS.

But buyer beware: Years of neglect, vandalism, limited access and hammering by the elements make for labor-intensive money pits.

When Lou Schillinger and his volunteer cadre began restoring the 1890s-built Port Austin Reef Lighthouse in Michigan they first needed to remove 30 years' accumulation of gull and pigeon feces.

They hope to finally finish their work in three years after spending millions in repairs and countless hours.