National Mall Will Be More User-Friendly

Enhancements Are Part of National Park Service Centennial Initiative

Posted April 25, 2008 at 4:38pm

The first round of an effort to improve America’s national parks got under way late last week, and Washington, D.C., residents can expect to see some enhancements on the National Mall and in Georgetown.

The initiative, announced by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Thursday, comes in preparation for the National Park Service’s 100-year anniversary in 2016 and will entail 110 improvement projects around the nation, including three in D.C.

The D.C. projects will enhance signage on the Mall, transform a parking lot in Georgetown into green space and give high schoolers the opportunity to conduct field studies for their science classes.

Jeffrey Olson, a spokesman for the National Park Service, said that while D.C. residents know how to get around the Mall, “far-flung” visitors do not. Better signage and stations to help visitors find their way will help make the Mall and downtown D.C. easier to navigate, he said. The project will cost $2.2 million.

Olson said the new signs would offer historical information as well as the location of the memorials and monuments.

“Some of the memorials are less well known,” Olson said. “We’re just trying to offer information that people can take with them — nuggets of information, if you will — things they’ll hang onto and take with them.”

On the Georgetown waterfront, NPS will use $9 million to transform a parking lot into a park connecting the Capital Crescent Trail to the Rock Creek Trail.

The third project will use $400,000 to expand the Bridging the Watershed education program to underprivileged high schoolers in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Bridging the Watershed is a program that provides training, materials and transportation to high school science classes so the students have the opportunity to conduct field studies in national parks.

The set of projects announced Thursday is just the beginning. There will be a new set of changes every year until 2016, Olson said.

“Our purpose is to conserve scenery, historic objects and wildlife in our national parks — to provide for public enjoyment and leave all of that unimpaired for generations to follow us,” Olson said.

Chris Paolino, spokesman for the Interior Department, said the National Park Centennial is a $3 billion initiative. The first $1 billion improvement came from President Bush when he requested the largest operating budget in NPS’ history for 2008, allowing parks around the country to hire 3,000 more seasonal employees and provide extra maintenance, Paolino said.

“We’re breaking ground and bringing these projects to parks,” Paolino said.

The rest of the money is coming in the form of individual projects, which Paolino said has brought about an unprecedented partnership between the government and the private sector. The federal government will match every philanthropic donation given. Currently, more than $200 million in donations have been given, which surpassed the department’s goal of $100 million in donations per year. Most of the donors are organizations that already are affiliated with national parks.

Although the list for 2008 was just released, Paolino said work has already begun for the 2009 list. For 2008, more than 300 submissions for potential projects came from the national parks. Those and more are being considered for next year’s list. All of the proposed projects would greatly improve the parks because they are so creative and are meant to be special improvements, Paolino said.

“The goal is to revitalize these parks and connect future generations of Americans to the parks — to prepare the parks for sharing another 100 years of sharing the history and beauty and cultural wonders of the country,” he said.