- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

Thousands of visitors yesterday lined up to climb to the top of the Washington Monument, which reopened for the first time in more than six months.

The 555-foot obelisk had been closed since September while security enhancements on the grounds were installed. The $15 million security upgrade will be finished in late June and promises to show off the memorial in a new light.

“Visitors will have a new walk system which will be fully accessible; the monument will be re-lit with technology that’s energy-efficient and improves the monument’s appearance at night; and the flag poles will be returned to the plaza,” said Vikki Keys, Mall area superintendent for the National Park Service.

“All of the grounds will be fully accessible — the construction fencing will go away.”

However, much of the 55 acres around the monument will be off-limits until construction is completed this summer.

The National Park Service has put up a kiosk on 15th Street NW to dispense timed tickets for touring the monument. About 900 are available daily on a first-come, first-served basis, and each person is limited to four tickets.

Ms. Keys yesterday chatted with visitors and answered their questions as she zipped to the top of the monument and back down throughout the day.

The long lines and fencing didn’t dampen the spirits of Callie Stingel of Asheville, N.C.

Mrs. Stingel, her husband, John, and their two children, Rick and Mary Ann, waited patiently for their turn to ride to the top. The elevator takes 70 seconds to reach the top.

“I’m thrilled that we happened to be here when the Washington Monument re-opened,” Mrs. Stingel said. “I came [here] in 1978 when I was in the sixth grade, and we toured the city. I saw the Washington Monument, but I don’t think that we went up.

“I had to bring the children, who are in sixth and seventh grades, now because I want them to understand the history of Washington, D.C., and why it is important. By bringing them here, it makes it easier for them to understand that history is not just in books or in the papers,” she said.

Mary Ann, 13, a seventh-grader who attends Carolina Day School in Asheville, said she enjoyed her spring visit to the District.

“Yesterday, we visited the Capitol, and it was neat to see all of the things that many people might be bored by, but for me, it was a lot of fun,” she said. “History makes a lot more sense when you see the Washington Monument — the pictures and all of the buildings and the architecture.”

The monument’s reopening coincides with the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, which is expected to attract about 1 million visitors to the District.

“We planned our trip around the re-opening of the Washington Monument. We thought it would reopen on Thursday, so we stayed an extra day,” said Stacy Smith of Auburn, Ala., who was visiting the city with her husband and three children.

The festival — which runs through April 10 — will feature a 10-mile run Sunday and a parade April 9. Peak bloom is predicted from Monday through April 9.

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