Save the National Mall - America's Neglected Front Yard

The first evening of our trip to D.C., my wife and I decided to have an early dinner on Capitol Hill, so that we could make the scenic walk through the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. It's a walk we've made several times before, and is perhaps one of the best that our country has to offer, especially as sunset approaches, and the monuments begin to shine in the early evening sky. As we made the stroll down the familiar gravely path, I couldn't help but think this was not the National Mall I'd remembered.

With over 30 million visitors annually, The Mall is the most visited national park in our country, and is home to our nation's most important treasures. Monuments to Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, stand amongst memorials for those who paid the ultimate price for liberty in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The Mall is home to the Smithsonian Institution and the National Archives, which houses the original versions of The Declaration of Independence and Constitution. For all it's beauty and history, however, the National Mall hasn't seen an uplift in over 35 years, and its designation as "America's Front Yard" has begun to take its toll.

The sea of dead grass surrounding the Washington Monument

As we made our way through The Mall, the evidence of its disrepair seemed to be everywhere. The familiar lush green grass between The Capitol and the Washington Monument was almost entirely dead, and in some areas has given way to nice patches of dirt. The previously mentioned gravely paths are also now mostly dirt, with plenty of holes and puddles from a previous day's rain. A pond along the path between the World War II and Vietnam Memorials was filled with such filth, that I felt sorry for the ducks that called it home. When we arrived at our ultimate destination, the Lincoln Memorial, we were disappointed to find it's ceiling and rear wall facing the Potomac completely covered in dirt. These are just a few of the few things that I noticed, but there are countless other examples of the Mall's neglect.

So how could it be that the home of our country's most prominent treasures has fallen in such disrepair? Well, as with just about anything in the world these days, it comes down to money. The National Parks Service has faced funding shortfalls for many years, to the tune of around $10 billion, and as a result upkeep of the National Mall, and our country's other parks, has fallen well behind. Some progress has been made recently, like repairs to the Tidal Basin sea wall and the current reconstruction of the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Funding for these repairs came via the stimulus bill, however, and these projects only scratch the surface of what is really needed.

Washington Monument Reflecting PoolReconstruction of the reflecting pool

According to the Trust for the National Mall, approximately $600 million is needed to restore our Mall to its deserved condition. Late last year, The National Mall Plan was approved which sets in motion these needed improvements. Unfortunately, a written plan and a funded plan are two totally different things, and right now we only have the former. Many in Congress will point to record deficits as a sign that we simply can't afford the cost of the Mall's renovation, yet they are the same group who wrote $11 billion in "earmarks" into last year's budget.

So what can you do to help? Well, if you have a few bucks, you can always contribute to the Trust for the National Mall, a group dedicated to the restoration, and approved by the National Park Service. Perhaps the easiest thing, and of course the cheapest, would be to email your representatives in Congress and ask that they stop shouting at the wind for just a moment, and take a look out their office window.

To put it bluntly, the condition of our National Mall is shameful, but also very telling. There are those who claim America's best days are behind it, and if they were to visit Washington D.C., the evidence is right in front of the Capitol. What does it say about our country that we've shown such neglect to the most prominent symbols of our great nation? That is a question which I hope I never learn the answer. What I do know, however, is Washington D.C. is broken, and in more ways than one...

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