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Park takes center stage

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By Arin McKenna

An event at the Los Alamos Historical Museum featuring Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) centered on the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Bingaman sponsored the Senate legislation that would establish the park. 

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The bill is stalled in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Bingaman. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (I-Alaska) and the Republican contingent that votes with her are blocking any bills sponsored by Democrats until a controversial bill Murkowski has sponsored is moved to the Senate floor. 

“Frankly, it’s difficult to get anything passed through the Senate and House these days, so I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is a certainty at all, that we’re going to get this done by the end of this year,” Bingaman said. “We’re getting the stage set so it can be done early next year if it’s not done this year. But it is a very important project and we have good bipartisan support in the Senate. We think we can get this enacted.”

Bingaman cited an editorial that appeared in the Washington Post Monday morning as evidence of the strong support for the project. “That may help us get something done, even before the end of this year. Usually they’re not writing editorials about individual public land related bills in the Washington Post, and the fact that they would do so on this bill I think is a sign of the importance they attach to this.”

“This is a very important thing for Los Alamos,” Bingaman continued. “The impetus for this came from you folks. This is not something that people in Washington dreamed up. This is something that people here dreamed up. I don’t know how many times Nancy (Bartlit) has buttonholed me at various events over the years saying, we’ve got to get this done. 

“And she’s exactly right; we do have to get this done and recognize the amazing scientific achievement that was accomplished as part of this Manhattan Project. It will bring people to this community, it will help educate people as to the importance that this project had in the 21st Century, not just in this country but worldwide, so I think it’s a very important thing to do.”

Bandelier National Park Superintendant Jason Lott spoke of the conflicting stories inherent in the Manhattan Project, and the National Park Service’s ability to do justice those stories, citing the Manzanar concentration camp and the Sand Creek Massacre as examples.  

“There’s a lot there that I don’t think folks know, and that’s where the National Park Service comes in. That’s where we tell that story,” Lott said. “And it can be told, and I think right here and at the two other Manhattan Project sites is a great place to tell those stories.”

Lott expressed confidence that the creation of the national park might be “kicked down the road,” but that it would happen, and warned Los Alamos to prepare itself to welcome the visitors it attracts. 

Other speakers confirmed that being ready is also on their minds.

“The historical society is at a crossroads,” Los Alamos Historical Society President Ron Wilkins said. “Looking down one road, we can continue as we are, a good, but small organization focused primarily on a local audience. But the potential creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park suggests another path, one where we take on the challenge of telling our story to a much wider audience.”

The society is currently fundraising in order to renovate and expand the museum and provide the staff support necessary once the park is established. 

Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Member Services Coordinator Katy Korkos spoke of the establishment of the Creative District as a way to support the new park. 

“In the creation of the Creative District, what our organization did was to spearhead laying the groundwork to welcome the world to view Los Alamos’ unique creativity,” Korkos said. “It’s been developed to embrace the role of our history and our creative culture and to embrace the possibility of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. We propose to help create the environment to help us gain strong economic benefit from a future park.”

Rep. Jim Hall, (R-Los Alamos, Sandoval, and Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties) also stressed the impact the new park will have. 

 “This will celebrate the science in New Mexico, that really started in a major way then, and has gone on and on and offered so many benefits to the nation,” Hall said. “This science not only changed New Mexico, it changed the world, and it was a major change. The results of it are not completely known yet, and I’m not sure they’ll ever be. But this was a major shift, and this national park will celebrate and recognize that major shift in the world.”

To view more photos of the Sen. Bingaman visit, check out the multimedia section of LAMonitor.com.