By Erin Brady
On March 17, one of the premier destinations in St. Augustine was forced to close its doors to the public because of COVID-19. Now, after seven months without visitors, the gates are once again open.
The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, considered to be the oldest masonry fort in the United States, reopened after over 200 days on Oct. 21. This comes three weeks after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted capacity restrictions on all Florida bars and restaurants.
“We are following both national and state protocols to ensure the safety of our employees and guests,” said Supervisor Park Ranger Greg Utech. “We currently have signage that is stressing these guidelines throughout the fort.”
However, if you are expecting to visit the Castillo sometime soon, it is important to know that there are some major changes being made to the fort. One of these changes is the number of people that can enter at one time; the rangers are strictly enforcing a 100-person capacity.
“Anyone that has been inside the fort knows that there are some very small, cramped spaces,” Utech explains. “We want to reduce as much possibility of contact and transmission as possible.”
Another major change involves the days and hours of operation. The Castillo will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays out of precaution, and will be open to the public Wednesday through Sunday each week. It will also operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each of these days. Not only that, but do not expect to hear the cannons and muskets being fired any time soon, as those demonstrations are postponed until further notice.
Tourists have been eager to see the reopened Castillo, and many are visiting for the first time. Dennis from Edgewater, Fla., brought family visiting from Oklahoma.
“They have never seen the fort before,” he said. “We did not actually know that it was closed before today, so it was really good timing.”
The rangers at the Castillo are eager to welcome new and returning guests into the monument. Utech says that they are closely monitoring both local and state protocols in order to plan their next steps.
For more information on the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, visit the National Park Service website or call 904-829-6506.