- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 20, 2003

Hundreds of volunteers converged on the Mall yesterday to clean up debris left by Hurricane Isabel during the 10th annual National Public Lands Day, one of the largest volunteer activities in the country.

About 200 adult volunteers showed up bright and early yesterday at Constitution Gardens in Northwest under sunny skies to begin clearing the Mall of tree branches, twigs and leaves.

Instead of fanning out throughout the city as in past years, the volunteers focused on the immediate Mall area. Equipped with garden gloves, rakes and brooms, National Park Service personnel directed crews throughout the Mall while three small trash packers followed the groups and disposed of the debris piled high along the paths.

“The turnout has been great. Volunteers are helping the government out by doing this work. A total of 80,000 people will be out for one day [across the country] contributing about 400 hours of labor that’s worth $10 million to the government,” said Kevin Coyle, president of the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation in Northwest.



The organization coordinates the annual event throughout the country.

Mr. Coyle, who lives in Reston, said the Public Lands Day volunteer effort started in 1994 in three locations and with a couple hundred volunteers. The new goal is to spruce up a few thousand sites and double the value of the donated labor from $10 million to $20 million, he said.

But Isabel loomed large in his mind.

“People need disaster relief, but the Mall needs it, too,” he said.

Meanwhile, National Park Service crews replaced U.S. flags surrounding the Washington Monument that were left tattered by Hurricane Isabel.

The White House, just north of the Washington Monument past the Ellipse, generally weathered the storm well, losing none of the historic trees planted by presidents and suffering no major leaks or other serious problems in its buildings. One tree fell on the 18-acre compound — a linden on the North Lawn — and an ash and a tulip poplar came close to toppling.

Almost all the 50 flags that encircle the Washington Monument were damaged or shredded as the hurricane, by that time only a tropical storm, passed through early Friday, park official Floyd Smith said. The crews were replacing the flags, one for each pole.

No damage was reported to the Capitol or any of the museums that attract millions of tourists a year, but hundreds of downed trees and even more branches littered Washington and its Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Some roads were blocked by yellow police tape because of uprooted trees that had demolished cars or crashed into houses.

President Bush left town before the storm blew in and remained yesterday at Camp David, the mountaintop presidential retreat in Western Maryland.

He declared the District a disaster area yesterday, releasing federal aid to the capital, as he had done during the week for North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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