Bay Area lighthouses joining the civilian population 

For the first time in its 150-year history, the lighthouse at Alcatraz Island may soon be open to the public.

The U.S. Coast Guard is in the process of transferring control of the lighthouse, along with four others in the Bay Area, to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Others being transferred include Point Montara in San Mateo County and Point Bonita, Point Diablo and Lime Point in Marin County.

Officials are looking into making the Alcatraz tower accessible to the public. While special groups have taken private tours of the historic structure throughout the years, it has never been open to regular visitors.

"There are (access) challenges for us that aren’t young and fit like active Coast Guard personnel, and we’d like to make it ready for the general public," said Ricardo Perez, the supervisory park ranger at Alcatraz.

As part of the National Lighthouse Preservation Act, the Coast Guard is divesting its lighthouses across the country and transferring control to interested agencies.

Technology has made the structures all but obsolete, said Lt. Amy Marrs of the Coast Guard.

"Over time, the Coast Guard has seen less and less funding to maintain the lighthouse structures, andof course we’re not given the people power to maintain them 24 hours," Marrs said.

Rich Weideman, a spokesman with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, said the structures are going to be inspected this week for safety and contamination issues. The announcement of the transfer caught the agency by surprise, he said.

"This is all so new to us that we haven’t even had a meeting with the Coast Guard yet," Weideman said.

The Coast Guard will continue to use the lighthouses as navigational aids, Marrs said. But all other building maintenance will transfer to the National Park Service.

Chris Powell, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, said the National Park Service will also inherit the costs of maintaining the lighthouses, but she did not know what those costs were.

"Certainly these lighthouses are within the boundary of the park, so we knew there was a chance they would come under our control," she said. But, she added, "we did not anticipate five structures coming to us at once."

In San Mateo County, officials also hope to see an arrangement allowing lighthouse tours. Christopher Bauman, general manager of a hostel that operates at the Point Montara lighthouse, said the new management could help bring more tourists.

"The light is fantastic, especially on foggy evenings," Bauman said of the lighthouse, which has been in operation since 1928.

Staff Writer Edward Carpenter contributed to this report.

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