Even if you're not from the Bay Area, you've probably heard of Alcatraz. It was a federal prison that was for the "worst of the worst." Al Capone, among others, was held there.
Maybe you also know the importance of Alcatraz to the self-determination movement of indigenous people.
Perhaps you even know about how the Army was stationed there and its role during the Civil War.
But do you know about the gardens?
I'm betting you don't. But you should. And if you ever choose to go to Alcatraz, you need to plan your visit around a tour of the Gardens of Alcatraz. We learned about the tour from a fellow volunteer at the Presidio. If you're a volunteer with the Golden Gate National Parks, you can take advantage of all kinds of free learning opportunities, including special tours, here. Any member of the public can also attend a tour of the Alcatraz gardens (more information here).
Wyatt and I attended our tour with our friend, Susan. We took the staff boat over early in the morning, and it was amazing to watch the island begin to wake up. We learned more than any of us thought possible about the place (a rock, originally with no soil), the people who lived there (willingly or not), and the importance of nature to society and community.
Volunteers have been working steadily since 2003 to restore the gardens to what they were during the eras of the army and the federal prison. When the restoration program began, they had about 50 years of overgrowth to tame. Restoration continues, and thanks to a world-class composting program, volunteers help the island to make its own nutrient dense soil. Some of the original plants still thrive in the gardens, including a rose that at one time was thought to be extinct in the rest of the world. On our tour, we smelled at least four different kinds of bearded iris. The dahlias were dazzling.
The gardens are gorgeous and the bird population is astonishing. We watched Great Blue Herons tend to their young in huge nests in the tops of trees while a Night Heron rested on a branch nearby. We listened to the other-worldly sounds of the Snowy Egret colony and were amazed by the number of Cormorants on an unrestored part of the island. Gulls fed their chicks in nests nestled along garden paths.
When you're done with the garden tour, you can also tour the prison if you feel like checking it out.
And if you're looking for ways to contribute, you can also volunteer your time.