Part Tourist Attraction, Part Work Zone

Construction crews work on the National Zoo's $34 million Asia Trail, scheduled to open later this year. The attraction will bring together several species from the continent, but the star will undoubtedly be Tai Shan, the zoo's 11-month-old panda cub, snoozing at right as work proceeds.
Construction crews work on the National Zoo's $34 million Asia Trail, scheduled to open later this year. The attraction will bring together several species from the continent, but the star will undoubtedly be Tai Shan, the zoo's 11-month-old panda cub, snoozing at right as work proceeds. (Photos By Caleb Jones -- Associated Press)

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By Derrill Holly
Associated Press
Thursday, June 15, 2006

As visitors stream past the national capital region's famous landmarks this summer, they will find some of them partially obscured by orange plastic fencing and construction equipment.

The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, near the north gate of Arlington National Cemetery, and the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall are undergoing work. And visitors won't be able to miss the sights and sounds of construction at the National Zoo and the Old Patent Office Building, home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.

"The amount of visitors that we have here does take a toll, and so there's really no best time to do major maintenance," said Bill Line, a National Park Service spokesman, who added that planners generally work with contractors to stagger construction and renovations at major attractions so only portions of them are obstructed.

The Marine Corps and Lincoln memorials have been undergoing upgrades since last year.

The base and grounds surrounding the towering bronze statue of five servicemen raising the flag over Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi are undergoing their most extensive rehabilitation since the statue was erected in 1956. Work on the support structure, irrigation system and walkways is scheduled to be completed this fall at a cost of $5.5 million.

"The memorial can be viewed -- perhaps not as up close -- but the grounds are open," Line said.

At the Lincoln Memorial, the first traffic project in more than four decades is nearing completion. Although it's among the most popular monuments on the Mall, its location near the Potomac River has been plagued by limited parking for tour buses and narrow, outdated walkways. Once $5 million in improvements to the grounds are complete, park service officials say, it will be easier for people to get to the memorial on foot or by bicycle or bus.

The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1922. It has appeared on the reverse of the penny since 1959, with more than 17 billion of the coins minted in the past three years alone.

Construction work is also continuing at other major attractions in and around the District.

At the National Zoo in Northwest Washington, the $34 million Asia Trail exhibit is within six months of completion. Begun in April 2004, it will be the new home of the zoo's giant pandas, sloth bears, clouded leopards, giant salamanders and several other species native to the world's largest continent.

The project has been impossible for zoo visitors to avoid. Cranes tower behind the enclosures where the 11-month-old panda Tai Shan and his parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, remain the zoo's most popular attractions.

"The kids usually make more noise than the construction," said David Schnetlage, 51, of Clarksville, Tenn., as he peered through a fence at a zebra that appeared to be oblivious to the drilling and hammering yards away.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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