From end to end, the National Mall has looked like a construction site all summer, providing a detour instead of a destination for many tourists, joggers and other visitors.
That will change this weekend, when the renovated Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool at the west end will be filled to its new capacity. And fresh turf at the other end will soon be taking root ahead of January's presidential Inauguration.
"It is indeed disruptive," said Bob Vogel, the National Park Service's superintendent for the Mall area, acknowledging that for "some people, this may be their first and only trip to Washington, D.C., and we hate areas shut down."
Especially in hot weather, the Reflecting Pool at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial draws visitors to sit by the water. But in a project that began in late 2010, the pool was drained of 7 million gallons of water, the foundation dug up and removed, and, in the months that followed, a new concrete base poured and sealed.
Most of the work is done, and as of Wednesday, "the pool's about half full," said Scott Stephenson of Corman Construction, the contractor doing the renovations. "We have about, almost 2 million gallons of water to go yet."
Reflecting Pool should be refilled by weekend
Tourists have found a detour rather than a destination along the National Mall this summer due to construction.
Barring complications, pumps that are drawing water from the Tidal Basin along the Potomac River will have topped off the Reflecting Pool by this weekend.
The old structure held more water, but filtering was poor, and the foundation was leaking. The new structure is shallower, with better filtration for less water, and the concrete floor is tinted to maintain its visual impact of reflection.
At the east end of the Mall, nearest the U.S. Capitol, earth-moving equipment, mountains of topsoil and teams of construction crews are finishing some yard work that will create a more durable place for inaugural spectators and other gatherings.
Two joggers stopped at a sign the park service had placed at the edge of the site to help people make sense of all the activity as visitors detour around temporary fences, concrete barriers and construction apparatus.
"It definitely gives us an uglier view as we run in the mornings," Diana Schneider said, "and the dust, the noise level as well, so, yeah, it's been here a while, and we can't wait to get finished."
Turf ready for presidential inauguration in January
Vogel explained that crews "are re-engineering the soil, we are collecting storm water in large cisterns, we have an irrigation system in place, and eventually we'll be placing new sod" to take root during the current growing season through autumn.
"We do think that this is going to lead to a better end product, and it's going to sustain the Mall for future generations," Vogel said. He says the turf project must include the spring and summer months to help the newly planted grass thrive.
The area has been a prime gathering point for a view to presidential inaugurations at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. And Vogel says the turf will be ready for crowds by January.
Farther along the Mall, the Washington Monument remains closed because of damage from an earthquake that took place a year ago, on August 23, 2011. The National Park Service will soon announce the contract for repairs to the obelisk.
A reopening date for the monument has not been announced.
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