NPS to Host Meeting on Park at Los Alamos

NPS to Host Meeting on Park at Los Alamos

Fuller Lodge at Los Alamos

Los Alamos, New Mexico, Monday, February 1 - The National Park Service (NPS) will host the fourth in its series of public meetings to discuss a draft study on the creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Los Alamos on Tuesday, February 2, 2010. The meetings will be from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM and 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM at Fuller Lodge, 2132 Central Avenue, Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The discussion will focus on Los Alamos's role in a future national park. Of the four Manhattan Project sites under consideration, the Park Service only embraced Los Alamos for inclusion in a future Manhattan Project National Historical Park. We commend the Park Service’s decision to include Los Alamos and hope NPS will also include Oak Ridge, TN, and Hanford, WA, in a future park.

Currently, there are no national parks that preserve Manhattan Project resources or tell the story of the top-secret World War II project that created the world’s first atomic bombs. The National Park Service study is the first step in designating a new national park. With bipartisan support, Congress passed the “Manhattan Project National Historical Park Study Act” in 2004 and directed that the study consider the three major Manhattan Project sites at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Hanford, as well as Dayton, OH. The draft study, released in late 2009, presents five alternatives ranging from no action to the creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Los Alamos.

Los Alamos played a unique and indispensible role in the Manhattan Project. Top scientists from around the world came to Los Alamos during the war. Within the walls of the top-secret city, they built the first nuclear weapons in just two years. Its story deserves to be told as part of a national park.

Fifty of Los Alamos’ historic Manhattan Project properties remain. Six would likely be preserved and featured in a national park. The V Site (TA-16) received a Save America’s Treasures Grant in 1999 and restoration of the Gun Site is underway. Other sites include the Concrete Bowl and Quonset hut where the Fat Man bomb was tested and assembled, the Louis Slotin Accident Building and the Pond Cabin, the lone surviving LANL structure dating back to the Homestead period. Together, these properties tell a remarkable story and are a modest testament to the enormous accomplishments of wartime Los Alamos.

A Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Hanford could be a prototype for 21st-century parks. In September 2009, the National Parks Second Century Commission, co-chaired by Senators Howard Baker, Jr., and Bennett Johnston, Jr., strongly urged Congress to expand the role of the national parks to represent the diversity of our heritage. The Commission’s recommendations reinforce the merits of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park and the need to preserve the few remaining properties. These recommendations include engaging diverse audiences, providing lifelong, place-based learning, strengthening collaboration with partners, and using technologies and media to further these aims.

A Manhattan Project National Historical Park, combining scientific, military, industrial, social and cultural history, could broaden the NPS narrative and reach new, diverse audiences. The use of innovative, web-based technologies, such as NPS’s new Views of the National Parks program, in the Manhattan Project park would make this history widely accessible while enhancing the park’s educational capacity. The Los Alamos National Laboratory, which continues to be at the forefront of scientific research, could provide programming at the park site, connecting the lab today with its illustrious beginnings.

We have seen firsthand how Los Alamos inspires visitors. In 2009, the Atomic Heritage Foundation hosted a workshop on the Manhattan Project for New Mexico teachers. The participants walked down Bathtub Row, where some of the most famous Manhattan Project scientists resided. They crouched through the low door frame of the Pond Cabin and stood in the living room of the man whose ranch was taken over by the government to be the site of the project. They ate lunch with Manhattan Project veterans at Fuller Lodge. The place-based learning that occurred during the teachers’ visit connected the human stories with the science for which the Manhattan Project is famous. The workshop participants returned to the classroom excited to share this new dimension with their students.

The Atomic Heritage Foundation urges members of the Los Alamos community to take advantage of the upcoming public forum and the comment period to advocate for a Los Alamos site in a Manhattan Project National Historical Park and to support the inclusion of Hanford and Oak Ridge in a future park. The public comment period will be open through March 1, 2010. 

The Foundation is hosting an informal workshop for anyone interested in exchanging ideas and plans with colleagues from different sites and experts in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, February 10, from 9 AM to noon followed by an informal lunch. The meeting will be at Latham & Watkins, 555 11th Street, NW, tenth floor. Please RSVP to Cindy Kelly at ckelly@atomicheritage.org as space is limited. 

Details about the public meetings, the National Park Service’s newsletter summarizing the study’s alternative and link to the full report are available on the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s website at www.atomicheritage.org. A complete copy of the study is available on the National Park Service website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov.

Comments on the Inclusion of Hanford and Oak Ridge in a National Park:

While the Atomic Heritage Foundation is thrilled the National Park Service recognized Los Alamos, the Foundation also believes that Hanford and Oak Ridge should also be units of a Manhattan Project park. Of the 130,000 individuals who were employed by the Project, only 5,000 were based in Los Alamos. Nearly 125,000 others worked to produce fissile material for the bombs at Hanford and Oak Ridge. While Dayton played an important role in developing the polonium or the neutron generators for the bombs, the Ohio site lacks the resources of the other three. We urge members of the Los Alamos community to advocate for the creation of a three-site national park, recognizing that the production of fissile material at Hanford and Oak Ridge were vital to the creation of the atomic bomb.

The NPS study’s arguments against establishing a Manhattan Project National Historical Park relate to “feasibility.” The study cites the management challenges and costs of dealing with sites in dispersed locations, financial liability for future cleanup and maintenance, and visitor and employee safety. Another problem cited is lack of public access to the Department’s facilities “behind the fence” as well as to some privately-owned structures. Finally, the study cites the uncertainty of Congressional funding. The Atomic Heritage Foundation doesn’t feel these concerns merit exclusion from the park.

NPS currently runs a number of discontiguous park sites and has recently established a number of park sites involving complex land ownership agreements such as would be necessary at Oak Ridge and Hanford. The Department of Energy would continue to own sites that would likely generate future liability, cleanup and safety issues. Special appropriations could be authorized to provide DOE funds for maintenance, safety and security. The NPS would continue to do what it does best: preserve and interpret our nation’s history.