"America's Front Yard," a national treasure that attracts and enthralls more than 25 million people a year, is in trouble and seriously deteriorating to the point that it needs vast and immediate renovations.
What is at stake is the future of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the site of many of the most magnificent memorials, museums and inspirational entities with which we are blessed.
It is estimated that at least $350 million is needed, and soon, to deal with the deterioration and disarray. Down the line, as much as $1 billion could be required. Stunning figures, to be sure, but every cent can be justified if there is responsible oversight of how the funds are used.
A recent article in USA Today declared: "In a city of magnificent vistas, among the finest is the one across the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial. Yet below, on the monument's plaza, is a far less pleasant point of view. Amid mud-soaked grass and crumbling concrete, a 'Caution: High Tide' sign warns of water that rises twice daily, spreading 50 feet across the plaza. To avoid the flooding, tourists duck under cherry trees, tromping their roots and killing four or five each year. : Though the memorial itself is solid, the plaza is 8 inches above the century-old sea wall in some areas, and it will cost up to $90 million to repair."
Other problems at the National Mall include deteriorating walkways and benches as well as patchy grass. The number of park rangers available to answer visitors' questions - 57 - is the same as in early 1995, before several memorials were added.
Fortunately, there is evidence help is on the way. The National Park Service and the nonprofit Trust for the National Mall are launching a public-private partnership to restore the mall.
This effort is part of a campaign announced by President Bush last year to reduce a $5 billion maintenance backlog in the 84-million-acre national park system. The Centennial Initiative seeks to raise $1 billion in private donations to match federal funds to revitalize the park system for its 100th anniversary in 2016.
The 25 million foreign and domestic visitors to the National Mall this year will be greater than the combined attendances at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone parks. The mall allows for interminable activities the year-round and deserves every cent of care and financing we can muster. We cannot afford to allow further damage and destruction of this marvelous locale.
In setting aside gifts for agencies in the months ahead, we all will do well to consider a contribution to improve things in and around America's Front Yard.
It is another of our national treasures that should be allowed to be all it can be through our full and generous support.