Conservatively, the July 4 fireworks show on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., attracts several hundred thousand visitors and generates huge amounts of trash. It’s almost a miracle that by the following dawn, all that trash is gone, thanks to National Park Service crews working all night.
Not this year. The sun rose July 5 on pyramids of bottles, food containers, paper wrappers, plastic tarps, even discarded lawn furniture that the celebrants couldn’t be bothered to lug back home.
The Mall eventually was cleaned up — but during regular working hours. Thanks to the sequester — the mandatory federal spending cuts — the Park Service budget for the Mall took a $1.6 million hit that eliminated overtime for the cleanup.
But rapid cleanups are not at the top of the list of problems for the Mall, the 2-mile expanse of greenery, monuments and museums that runs from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol. It isn’t being overly gushy to call it one of the world’s great public spaces.
The Mall may be the nation’s most visited national park. It draws 25 million visitors a year —more than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. Not bad for a piece of reclaimed swampland that, in its time, was home to slaughterhouses, a red light district, a railway station and dozens of World War I barracks-like “temporary” federal office buildings, the last of which wasn’t removed until the Nixon administration.
Through age and hard use, the Mall has taken a beating. While it still looks magnificent from a distance, closer inspection reveals lawns worn down to the dirt, broken sidewalks, puddles from bad drainage, crumbling sea walls and a serious dearth of places to eat and go to the bathroom.
The Reflecting Pool has been drained and relined, and a new circulation system should end the occasional fetid smells, once it’s working right.