---- — 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.
A rare earthquake in 2011 resulted in unscheduled plans to refurbish the Washington Monument. The monument grounds would get a new amphitheater for its popular concerts and outdoor movies.
With Congress in no mood to spend, even on worthwhile projects, saving the Mall will likely be more of a private endeavor. The Trust for the National Mall aims to raise $350 million for restoration, $38 million of it this year on top of the $22 million it raised last year and the $5.3 million in 2011. In May, Volkswagen of America announced a $10 million gift — the largest to the Mall to date — in hopes other corporations will follow its example.
Perhaps on a Fourth of July not far off, the trash once again will be gone when the sun rises July 5. After all, the Mall belongs to all of us.