More of Alcatraz could be opened

Much more of Alcatraz could be open to the public in the future if plans that are in the early stages at the National Park Service move forward.

The parks agency is contemplating a long-term plan for the island that would repair and reopen perimeter trail, along with its large parade ground — both of which have been appropriated by nesting seagulls and other birds in recent decades, project manager Brian Aviles said.

The plan would try to draw people to parts of the island that are already open but not frequented by visitors, parks agency spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said.

“The cell house is pretty much the pinch point right now,” she said. “Everybody goes to the cell house and everybody goes to the dock, but pretty much everything else, everybody just goes through.”

She said new exhibits and enhancements could highlight other parts of the island, like the historic gardens on Alcatraz that volunteers have brought to life in recent years.

The National Park Service is revising its general management plan for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for the first time in more than 20 years, and is re-examining each of its properties — one of which is Alcatraz — and considering what the long-term vision should be.

The draft plan won’t be out for public review until early next year, but some of the plans are coming together already, Aviles said. He said no decision about the island will be made until the public has a chance to provide input.

The parks agency is considering restoring some of fencing and towers to give visitors a better idea of what it might have been like to live on the island. It’s also looking at adding exhibits in the library and main hospital.

The perimeter trail has never before been open to the public, Aviles said. Much of it was used as a sentry path by guards, who walked the perimeter to prevent escapes.

“The Army sharpened all the cliffs so it would be harder for people to get on and off of, and it’s not a natural water’s edge, so walking the perimeter provides a wonderful experience,” Aviles said.

The parade ground could be a rich site to open up to the public because of its history, Aviles said. It’s where much of the community life on the island has lived.

“For a lot of people Alcatraz is this really sad story, and [the parade grounds] just adds a different dimension to the story,” he said. “There’s still people who remember growing up on Alcatraz — it wasn’t just one or two people, but it was an entire really small town. The parade grounds give you that context for the island.”

However, most of the grounds are closed off much of the year because seagulls and other birds nest there between February and October.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

AlcatrazBay Area NewsLocalNational Park Service

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