The National Mall got a "C grade" Tuesday from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as he signed a plan to restore what he called "the front yard of America" — now notable for its dead grass and sinking seawalls.
Salazar visited the Jefferson Memorial and toured a construction zone nearby where workers are replacing a seawall. He said the National Park Service should aim for an "A grade" for the mall.
"There's a lot that has to be done," Salazar said, noting other sections of the seawall around the Tidal Basin also are sinking into the mud. "There are resources that will have to be invested into this front yard of America."
Making the mall restoration plan a reality will require help from private sponsors, as well as Congress, he said. The plan signed Tuesday took four years to develop and will serve as a roadmap for the Park Service.
It would address the wear and tear caused by millions of visitors at protests, rallies and festivals by creating a civic square for such events near the Capitol. The Capitol Reflecting Pool would be replaced with a smaller pool or fountain that could also be used as a gathering place to ease strain on nearby trees and grass.
Other improvements would include new restrooms, entertainment facilities and cafes or restaurants. Gravel walkways would be paved, grass turf would be reengineered and seawalls around the Tidal Basin would be rebuilt to prevent flooding.
"It's the most popular piece of real estate in America," said Tom Strickland, assistant secretary of the Interior who oversees the Park Service. "And yet, we're loving it to death."
Work at the Jefferson Memorial was funded by the federal economic stimulus package. So was restoration of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool where multitudes gathered in 1963 to hear Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
Additional federal funds may be hard to come by as Congress grapples with record deficits and spending fatigue.
Salazar thanked the Coca-Cola Co. for making another immediate improvement by funding the mall's first recycling program.
"It is a stain on our nation's capital that our front yard really did not have a recycling initiative," he said.
Coca-Cola donated about $500,000, in part to pay for 320 permanent blue recycling bins and two trailers that each hold 400 temporary recycling bins for large events on the mall. The company expects to collect about 60 tons of recyclable materials each year, said Steve Cahillane, CEO of the company's North America operation.
John "Chip" Akridge, a developer and chairman of the nonprofit Trust for the National Mall, said other partners must step up to help restore the historic space. He said the monuments to war heroes and presidents are being dishonored by "simple neglect."
"America cannot stand by and let the National Mall continue to be a national disgrace," Akridge said.
National Mall Plan: http://www.nps.gov/nationalmallplan/FEISdocs.html