- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

The National Park Service is preparing to nip and tuck at the nation’s seat of power.

As caretaker of the Mall, Park Service officials want to know what visitors want from the nation’s premier but well-worn spot for remembering, celebrating and rallying.

They ask that people speak up, log on and turn out for a monthslong, $800,000 planning process.

“Our goal is to keep the monuments, memorials, recreation and park spaces of the National Mall as beautiful and as accessible as possible,” said Vikki Keys, the Park Service’s superintendent of the Mall.

That is a major challenge, with more visitors converging on the 2-mile-long Mall each year than at Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon national parks combined.

“As you can imagine, 25 million visitors adds up to a lot of wear and tear,” Park Service Director Mary Bomar said.

Three to 4 tons of trash is left at and removed from the Mall every day.

Parking is scattered, and just 300 acres of turf, 47 drinking fountains and 100 restrooms are available.

The Mall extends from the Lincoln Memorial to the west front of the Capitol, and from the White House to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin.

Its formal spaces draw on landscape traditions of European capitals but are crafted to showcase American democracy.

Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett called it America’s front lawn.

“Here, Americans through our nation’s history have exercised their First Amendment rights,” she said. “They assemble, they speak freely, they contemplate the values and achievements of this nation, of the people, by the people and for the people. The Mall is a place where history is both made and celebrated.”

They also run and bike and toss softballs, volleyballs and rugby balls there, or gaze at movies, fireworks and stars.

Debate over whether to expand the elm-tree-lined Mall — and how freely people can enjoy it in the post-September 11 era — remains an issue.

The U.S. Park Police use surveillance security cameras to cover most of it by day.

Congress enacted legislation in 2003 to prevent overbuilding by declaring the Mall a completed work of civic art.

The law contained an inherent contradiction — exemptions that allowed construction of a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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