National Mall falls behind on upkeep amid major repairs

July 18, 2018

Visitors to the nation’s capital are surprised to find scattered trash, dirty bathrooms and bald patches of ground around the National Mall and its memorials.

“In all honesty, I was a little shocked. I thought it was going to be cleaner,” said Megan Anderson, 24, who was visiting this week from Northern California. “I went to the bathroom in the Lincoln Memorial, and it was a little dirty. Coming to our nation’s capital, I thought it would be a little more kept up.”

Rashel Korte, 19, an intern for the Salvation Army, said she runs around the Mall in the mornings and visits the museums in her free time.

“There’s always trash in the grass around the Mall. I’ve gone to sit in the grass and changed my mind because it was so messy,” Ms. Korte said.

The National Park Service says it has a $700 million backlog of deferred maintenance for the Mall. Several areas are in need of repair and lack sufficient resources.

For example, elevators are broken in the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. The Washington Monument has been closed since Aug. 17, 2016, for an upgrade of its elevator to “increase long term reliability and safety,” and is set to reopen in spring 2019. There is no date for when the elevators in the other memorials will return to order.

Meanwhile, the Lincoln Memorial has been undergoing a $2.85 million roof replacement and masonry repair since January, and is set to be complete by the end of the summer.

Such projects are paid for in part by private donations and funds in the National Park Service’s annual budget, but more projects and money are needed for a raft of expenses designated as “miscellaneous.”

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced the Restore Our Parks Act, which would create a National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund to address a $12 billion backlog of deferred and overdue maintenance at national parks across the country. The proposed fund would cover miscellaneous expenses by allocating revenue from on- and offshore energy development.

“Some parks are over 100 years old and it’s showing,” Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association, said last week during a hearing on the legislation conducted by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee on National Parks.

The bill was introduced by Sens. Angus King, Maine independent; Rob Portman, Ohio Republican; Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat; and Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican. It has been co-sponsored by nine other senators and enjoys support from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Restore America’s Parks Campaign and the Outdoor Industry Association.

Supporters of the legislation say it could ensure a major timely repair projects at national parks and fund more Park Service employees to maintain public grounds and facilities.

“I think the grounds could be better kept up,” Ms. Korte said of the Mall.

There are several construction sites for repairing a water line from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, a project that began in January and is set to be completed by next January.

But the sight of backhoes, hard-hat crews and excavated earth did not keep visitors from enjoying the Mall, which is seen by more than 38 million tourists each year.

“I could see that there were a lot of renovations going on, but it’s my first time here, so it’s still really cool,” said Miss Anderson.

Her boyfriend, Trevor Mickelson, agreed. “It’s pretty neat. You see a lot of pictures, but to actually come here and see it in person is pretty cool,” he said.

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