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Feds start work on Manhattan Project Nat’l Park

Down to business > NPS, DOE takle nuts and bots of Manhattan Project Park

By Arin McKenna
Saturday, January 16, 2016 at 8:00 pm (Updated: January 16, 8:00 pm)

Now that the National Park Service and the Department of Energy have reached a memorandum of agreement about what their respective responsibilities are for the management of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park (MPNHP), attention has turned to the logistics of getting the park up and running.

At last Tuesday’s meeting of Los Alamos’ MPNHP committee, Project Manager/Assistant to the County Manager Linda Matteson updated members on the efforts of various local and national working groups.

The National Park Service Foundation Working Group is the major player in the park’s creation. That group will delineate such things as the park’s purpose, its significance, its fundamental resources and values and the interpretive themes.

To help determine what those are, the FWG will be visiting all three sites (Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington) in February. The group will be in Los Alamos Feb. 8-9, and hold a public meeting at 5 p.m. Feb. 8 in Los Alamos County Council chambers.

To develop the planning document, the FWG will also meet with relevant experts on such things as history, natural resources, facilities, operations and maintenance, interpretation and education.

Bandelier National Park Superintendent Jason Lott, who is actively involved in the planning process, recently held a meeting with local groups such as the Los Alamos Historical Society, the Bradbury Science Museum, MainStreet Futures and the Chamber of Commerce to discuss the formation of a friends group for the park.

Lott noted that forming a friends group presents special challenges due to the nature of the park. Not only does the MPNHP have three separate locations; there are a variety of local groups that have an interest in the park.

“I would argue that you probably don’t need a friends group here, another organization coming together to work on an element of this park. We already have all of these organizations,” Lott said.

At the first meeting, Lott discussed options for forming a friends group and asked participants to present those to their respective organizations for consideration. Possibilities included merging existing groups into an organization that supports the park.

“The worry is that we get too many organizations, they’re competing for similar funds for different elements of the park,” Lott said. “If we could have one group really focusing on all the elements of the park, trying to do fundraising for it, it might be a better model.”

There are also discussions underway about whether there should be one friends group for all three branches of the park.

One issue raised at Tuesday’s meeting was the fact that Oak Ridge is using the park’s Facebook page to solicit donations for its friends group, without clearly identifying that the donations are just for Oak Ridge.

“I think we ought to reach out to the other two communities and come to an agreement that if they have set up a friends group, they have to indicate that it’s not for the whole park,” said Los Alamos County Council member Kristin Henderson, who sits on the MPNHP committee. “We should come up with a standardized, ‘Friends of the Manhattan Park – Oak Ridge or Los Alamos.’”

Henderson opposed having one friends group for all three locations on the grounds that they may have competing interests, especially in regards to how donations are spent.

One of the key roles friends groups perform is raising money for needs that exceed the park’s budget. Lott agreed with those arguments.

Committee members discussed whether there should be a combined friends group for the MPNHP, Bandelier National Monument and the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Lott believed that separate groups might be better.

“There’s a big outdoor component to what the friends (of Bandelier) do, and they look at wilderness and a lot of that,” Lott said.

“The Manhattan Project is really a lot of science, a lot of really local history here in the community itself and it appeals to a different group of people potentially. I think a lot of people that work at the lab or have a history with the lab would gravitate toward the Manhattan Project.”

Lott does favor working with local groups such as the Bradbury (which has its own friends group) and the LAHS to merge something together, although he acknowledged the challenges that would present. One possible complication committee members raised is that members of those groups may want to support their respective museums but not necessarily the park as a whole.

DOE’s MPNHP Program Manager Vickie Louks reported on the DOE Manhattan Project Working Group’s efforts to develop a plan for opening MPNHP sites “behind the fence” at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The committee representatives have expertise on issues such as environmental, safety and security, maintenance, mission and utilities, which must be addressed before those facilities can be opened.

The group’s goal is to have public access within two years. They anticipate that access will be through bus tours.

“I can tell you sitting in the meetings with the DOE staff, they all want to achieve the things that we all want to achieve. The parameters that they’re dealing with are big challenges,” Lott said. “But every time I’ve been able to attend a meeting, they’ve been able to work through more and more barriers, and I have every bit of optimism that we’re going to get there. It will take time, but that staff is really engaged and really wants to do it.”

The final report was from a local partners group focused on getting information to the public about what is available now, before the behind-the-fence locations open.

The group is currently working on a pamphlet that will help visitors tour town sites related to the Manhattan Project. They hope to have that published by the time spring break brings an influx of visitors.

Committee members David Jolly and Councilor David Izraelevitz urged the committee to include information on behind-the-fence sites that will open in the future. The partners group was planning on producing a second brochure for that.

Kelly Stewart, who also sits on the committee, asked if the group could have a prototype of the pamphlet available by Feb. 22, when the New Mexico Tourism Department’s regional working group is meeting in Los Alamos. Stewart suggested it would be a good way to test the brochure and make tourism representatives from other localities aware of what is available now.

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Cultural Resources Historian Ellen McGehee gave an update on the virtual reality app being developed for the park, which will allow visitors to see how areas such as Ashley Pond would have looked in 1945. Developers are also hoping to launch that app before spring break.

The app can be updated as need be.

“We hope to be able to add virtual reality views of all the park eligible properties, even those not in original nine (designated to open to the public first),” McGehee said.

Lott warned committee members against trying to compete with Oak Ridge – which was offering tours of some of its facilities before the MPNHP was designated – or getting ahead of itself in other ways.

“I would caution that before we do a lot of advertising or promotion of the park, let’s let our operation get a little bit better,” Lott said.

“Because word of mouth and the early experiences are going to get out there, and we’re really a year out before the historical museum will be really up and running with their exhibits and the Bethe House (Cold War Museum) and all that is ready to go. Before we do a hard push trying to get people here to the park, let’s be sure that we have enough meat in that park.”

Leslie Bucklin reinforced the need for having information about what is available now ready for visitors.

“I spent two Saturdays working at the (Fuller Lodge) Art Center over the Christmas break, and spent the entire day both days answering questions about the Manhattan Project park. Every other person that walked in the door wanted to know where it was, how to get there, what to see, etc., etc., etc.,” Bucklin said. “They were just touring through and wanted to see the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. So the interest is out there already.” Comment

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