D.C. restores monument

The National Parks Service has erected wooden walls around the Washington Monument to prevent passers-by from walking on the site’s 106 acres of land while they are being renovated.

The walls, which encircle the National Mall on 15th and 17th streets and Constitution and Independence avenues, keep visitors from looking at the grounds, which “look like hell right now,” Park Ranger Michael Kelly said.

Construction plans include restoring the stone lodge on 15th Street and turning it into a visitor’s center and security checkpoint, Kelly said. Tufts of grass are being planted and new clusters of trees are being installed. A parking lot on the Constitution Avenue side of the monument is being taken away, and the German-American Friendship Garden that adorned the Mall after World War II is being restored.

“The proposed landscape will create a welcoming and inviting environment,” said Patti Gallagher, executive director of the National Capital Planning Commission. “(The) design will integrate the necessary security measures, without being overly intrusive, and will help preserve the site as an open space for the enjoyment of the millions of visitors the Monument sees in any given year.”

Currently, the grounds seen from above the fence are filled with landscape vehicles, mud tracks, gravel and dead patches of grass.

Kelly said parts of the wooden wall would be taken down as renovation projects are completed. He said he expects the entire project to be completed before August 2005. Renovations started a few months ago.

A new walkway doubling as a security barrier will allow Parks Service officials to remove a concrete wall currently encircling the monument, Kelly said.

The wall, which has been present since 1998 when terrorists bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, is situated to prevent potentially dangerous vehicles from getting close to the Washington Monument. It was also used to keep people away from the monument in 1999, when it was undergoing a three-year restoration and was covered in scaffolding.

Although the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks resulted in heightened security at major landmarks across the United States, extra security at the monument was not needed because of measures that were already in place, Kelly said.

Currently, there is only one active walkway on 15th Street that leads visitors to the monument. Before construction, the grounds surrounding the monument were completely accessible to tourists.

“The walkways are uneven, potholed and crumbling,” said Kelly, noting that the decrepit path impedes visitors with disabilities from getting close to the monument.

All visitors to the Washington Monument are screened before being allowed to ride an elevator to the top. Metal detectors and X-rays have been used at the site since 1998.

Despite construction that has put sightseers on a one-way street to the monument, tourists do not seem to be deterred from visiting one of the nation’s most recognizable symbols, Kelly said. The monument traditionally sees slightly less than one million visitors annually.

“Security is tedious, but I understand fully why they do it,” said Sgt. Tim Mateyko, of Ft. Campbell, Ky.

Nick Totaro, a visitor to the District from New York, said seeing the Washington Monument was “wonderful” and that the renovations didn’t damper his visit. He noted, however, that the wall “is a little unappealing to the eye.”

Commenting on security, Totaro said, “It is unfortunate that they have to do that,” but noted it was “important that (monuments) get left open.”

Totaro said the conditions at the Washington Monument are an improvement over those at the Statue of Liberty, which is currently closed to the public while improvements and construction upgrades are being made.

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