Proposed improvements would increase access to Alcatraz 

Alcatraz Island (Examiner file photo) - ALCATRAZ ISLAND (EXAMINER FILE PHOTO)
  • Alcatraz Island (Examiner file photo)
  • Alcatraz Island (Examiner file photo)

Long-ago inhabitants of Alcatraz wanted to escape the island, but now proposed improvements could make the former prison even more of a destination.

Restoration of buildings, a concession stand and overnight visitors could be some of the changes coming to Alcatraz under a draft management plan that would provide direction for the island for the next 20 years.

Alexandra Picavet, spokeswoman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which the island is a part of, said the goal of the organization’s plan is to enhance the public’s connection with national treasures such as Alcatraz.

“The island has a lot of structural stabilization that’s necessary in order to make it accessible,” she said. “There was a long period where there was not even general maintenance, which we inherited at Alcatraz.”

Alcatraz is accessible to the public only by ferry. The proposed plan would not change that, but instead increase access once there for the nearly 1.4 million annual visitors. The GGNRA said a number of improvements would need to be made.

“To better reveal the early military prison period, the guardhouse could be restored by removing the later boathouse addition,” the GGNRA document said. “Other areas would be rehabilitated for visitor services and administrative functions and could include modest dorm-like overnight accommodations for participants in education, conservation, and stewardship programs. The upper floors would be stabilized to preserve the structure’s integrity.”

Currently, visitors have access to the main prison house and gardens, but there is little access to the rest of the island.

Another plan is to open portions of it for more interaction with wildlife, including allowing visitors on the Parade Grounds on the southeast end and other perimeters to give nature enthusiasts and others an up-close experience.

However, Noreen Weeden of the Golden Gate Audubon Society said any plans for increased visitor access could harm at least a half-dozen bird species currently nesting on the former federal prison.

“We do not encourage expanding to open concessions or overnight stays,” Weeden said. “When birds have access to human food, it can create problems. Some birds are very clever and learn to take advantage of human food. We would not want them to get into the habit of depending on humans for food when they have an available food supply.”

The proposed plan does call for increased habitat restoration for birds that reside there. Steps to preserve the marine sanctuary around the island also are proposed, including reinstalling buoys 300 feet from shore in order to warn boaters of surrounding marine life.

“We’ve been wanting them replaced for some time,” Weeden said about the buoys. “It’s an easy marker for someone in a kayak or a small boat to know not to go beyond that point.”

The draft document is available for public comment through Nov. 7. A final version is expected to be completed by spring and presented to the GGNRA’s regional director for approval by next fall.

San Mateo County parkland and Muir Woods also could have changes and increased access under the draft plan.

Public comment

Meetings for the GGNRA draft management plan:

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Fort Mason, Building 201, San Francisco

When: 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Ingrid B. Lacey Middle School, Pacifica

When: 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 4
Where: Tamalpais High School, Mill Valley

Source: Golden Gate National Recreation Area

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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