SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Many people line up every day at Piers 31 and 33 in San Francisco to catch the ferry to Alcatraz, and now National Parks Service officials are planning to give them a better visitor experience.

Alcatraz is a National Park and the fourth most popular tourist destination in the Bay Area, visited by 1.8 million people each year. This figure came as a surprise to Victor Ojeda, who drove up from Oxnard in Southern Califonia on Sunday to see it.

“We get here and they tell us, ‘Hey, for June, July and August, you have to get your tickets in April.’ What? What do you mean?” Ojeda said.

People line up at the boat landing area, often for an hour or more. There is a scale model of the island to look at and a couple of exhibits, but mostly, visitors just hang out and wait for their ship to come in.

“I mean, there’s really not much to do anything here and there’s very little in the way of anything educational at all,” said Elan Kandel, a tourist from Ohio.

So park officials will soon begin renovating Alcatraz Landing to make it more interesting and educational. They’re waiting for final approval from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. BCDC’s Executive Director, Larry Goldsband, says the plaza will be remodeled with new exhibits added in separate areas where the boats depart and then arrive back home.

“So there are 10 to 15 different learning spots at the new venue that will be interactive,” he said, “that you will learn about what you’re going to see and what you have just seen.”

They want to make Alcatraz Landing a destination in itself and it will be open to anyone walking by. That way, people like Ojeda can enjoy it even if he doesn’t have a ticket to get on the boat. Goldsband says it’s part of the Park’s mission to be as accessible as possible.

“As you go around the United States, you see that the National Parks system has very much improved all of its visitor facilities,” he said. “And this is next.”

The landing will remain in operation during construction, so the project could take a while to complete. Even though building could begin as early as the end of this year, it’s not expected to be finished until 2023.

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