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Washington Monument To Reopen Next Month

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 19, 2005; Page A06

The Washington Monument is set to reopen to visitors next month when tourists will be coming to town for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, officials announced yesterday.

The monument, among Washington's most popular tourist destinations, has been shuttered since Sept. 7, 2004, when the National Park Service initiated a $15 million project to upgrade security.

Vikki Keys, superintendent of the Mall and memorial parks, said visitors will be able to travel by elevator to the top of the monument beginning April 1, though the surrounding 55-acre grounds will remain off limits until late June.

The cherry blossom festival, which runs from March 26 to April 11, traditionally kicks off the spring tourism season in the District.

Speaking at the National World War II Memorial, Keys said park officials are expecting more tourists this year than any other since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

About 20 million visitors went to the Mall during all of 2004, a number that park officials estimate could grow by 25 percent. "The good news is that the nation's capital is vibrant," Keys said. "It has returned to pre-9/11 levels."

Keys said park officials are intent on making visitors "feel welcome" while providing security.

Work at the monument, surrounded by fencing because of the construction, includes the installation of vehicular barriers and a new lighting system. "It's really going to pop in the skyline," Keys said.

The monument project is among several underway at well-known downtown sites.

Outside the Lincoln Memorial, crews are resurfacing the road and adding security barriers, a project that will take at least another year to complete, according to Bill Line, a Park Service spokesman.

At the Jefferson Memorial, officials are planning to upgrade security.

The east side of the U.S. Capitol is closed as crews build an underground visitors center slated to open next year. Outside the White House, Pennsylvania Avenue recently reopened to pedestrian traffic.

For visitors to the monument, the Park Service is erecting a temporary kiosk on 15th Street NW where timed tickets will be available each day on a first-come, first-served basis.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company