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Alcatraz remains open during government shutdown

This despite the government shutting down Alcatraz 55 years ago

A sign formerly advising boats to stay away from Alcatraz Island. Photo by Elisa Day

With the federal government shutdown (a potentially misleading term but still dire for those most directly affected by it) during a fight over the national budget, the fate of Bay Area national parks remains the most visible symptom of the situation locally.

The former federal prison on Alcatraz, long one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist destinations, is particularly vulnerable in this context—a 2013 shutdown that closed the prison site to the public cost tour companies some $3 million at the time.

For now at least the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy reports that Alcatraz and many other federally-operated SF areas remain open despite the impasse in Washington. However, the situation is already having financial fallout.

According to a site update:

Most visitor facilities at Alcatraz Island, the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, and Crissy Field will remain open during regular business hours. Staff members of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the Presidio Trust, and Alcatraz Cruises will continue to operate those facilities and park sites.

Fort Point and the Marin Headlands Visitor Center will remain closed during the lapse in federal appropriations. Many parking lots, restrooms, and visitor facilities will also be closed, including at Ocean Beach, Stinson Beach, Muir Beach, China Beach, and Fort Funston.

Alcatraz photographed from a distance. Photo by Atraphotography

But the nation’s budget woes are cramping the former prison’s style despite avoiding a complete visitor lockout.

The Alcatraz Cruise’s site warns would-be ticker buyers, “Visitors with Day Tour tickets will be able to visit Alcatraz Island during the shutdown and will not be affected. However, as long as the Government Shutdown is in effect, there will be no Behind The Scenes Tours or Night Tours.”

Anyone who already has tickets for cancelled tours—visitors must often book weeks or even months in a advance—are entitled to a refund. Alcatraz day tours are presently sold out until January 26.

The National Park Service [NPS] site says that “For most parks, there will be no National Park Service-provided visitor services, such as restrooms, trash collection, facilities, or road maintenance” during the shutdown.

The site also warns that it will not be updated until the budget crisis ends.

According to the Department of the Interior’s “contingency plan,” national park staffing “will be held to the amount needed for the protection of life, property, and public health and safety.

However, “Staffing levels will be based on the assumption that the NPS is conducting no park operations and providing no visitor services” for the duration.