Public encouraged to meet team

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By Arin McKenna

Although the Manhattan Project National Historical Park (MPNHP) is projected to launch early in 2016, the park’s creation may seem like a dream to many Los Alamos residents.
That could change next week when a field team comprised of National Park Service (NPS) and Department of Energy (DOE) officials visits the county as part of their preliminary work in developing the park.
Los Alamos is putting its best foot forward for the visit. Not only could it determine the structure for the park, Los Alamos is competing with Oakridge, Tenn., and Hanford, Wash., to be headquarters for the tri-state park.
“As they say, you never have a second chance to make a first impression,” said David Izraelevitz, vice chair of the Los Alamos County Council. “We want to show decision-makers that we are eager to help them build a new park and that we have ways to help them. “We plan to show them that Los Alamos commemorates and celebrates its history, that we are ready to put resources from the county and community toward this park, and that our community already is building a vision of what we want this park to be and do.”
The public will have a chance to meet with the field team from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at Fuller Lodge.
Opening remarks are scheduled for 5:15, followed by a performance by Mountain Elementary School children, a short film on the NPS and informal conversations with the citizens.
Council is hoping citizens will turn out in force.
“The community should come Tuesday night to welcome our visitors and display the personal connection that we have with our history,” Izraelevitz said. “The community has written books about Los Alamos, funded scholarships in honor of our history, supported our historical society and museums and preservation efforts. We want our visitors to come away with a sense that Los Alamos looks toward a scientific future that is anchored in our past.”
“I hope the NPS and DOE delegates get a chance to meet and converse with the several members of our community who have been in an unrelenting grassroots manner advocating for the Manhattan Project Park for years and now are even more enthusiastically offering their services and talents to make the Manhattan Project Park an integral part of our community,” Councilor Steve Girrens said.
The community can also support the effort by participating in the county-sponsored “I Support the Manhattan Project National Historical Park” campaign.
Those supporting the park can add their name and address to a postcard pre-printed with the campaign message, available at the Mesa or White Rock libraries and inside the lobby of the Municipal Building.
Drop the card in the collection box and it will be displayed at Tuesday’s public meeting.
Community members can also voice support by posting “I Support the Manhattan Project National Historical Park,” along with photos of county views, events or historic buildings, to their personal Facebook and Instagram accounts. Tag posts with the hashtag #iSupportMPNHP so the county can search, gather and add the posts to the postcard exhibit.
Council Chair Kristin Henderson plans to emphasize the park’s importance not only to Los Alamos County but to the country as a whole.
“The Manhattan Project was really a watershed moment in human history and it’s important that it be acknowledged,” Henderson said.
Councilor Pete Sheehey also emphasized the broader picture.
“The MPNHP represents a chance for Los Alamos to tell the whole story of the Manhattan Project — and related history up to the present day — to the nation and the world, with the help of the National Park Service and DOE, while we still have a few Manhattan Project veterans around to tell it,” Sheehey said. “The Los Alamos Historical Society has done a great job starting to tell this interesting and complex story with limited resources, but it’s an internationally important part of history, so it deserves national resources to tell the story properly.”
Henderson and other councilors also acknowledged the impact the MPNHP could have on Los Alamos.
“The creation of a national historical park in Los Alamos may well turn out to be, on a much smaller scale (than the Manhattan Project), a watershed moment for our town, too,” Henderson said.
“The Manhattan Project National Historical Park was identified by council as the highest priority in our strategic plan for this calendar and fiscal year. So it’s unanimously identified by the council from a strategic perspective,” Councilor Rick Reiss said. “This park is by far the biggest economic development opportunity the community has seen in decades, and the potential for Los Alamos crosses all segments of the community. Amenities such as restaurants, hotels, attractions, retail and even housing for more employees and jobs will stimulate not only the county but all the businesses and citizens as well.”
“The MPNHP creates a tourism trifecta for us — a world class cultural site in Bandelier, an amazing pristine recreation area in the Valles Caldera and a major historical attraction with the Manhattan Project Park,” Councilor Susan O’Leary said. “I think these three features; cultural, natural, and historical together are what we need to become a significant tourist destination.”
Councilor James Chrobocinski commented on how an estimated 250,000 visitors a year could not only spur new growth but help other aspects of the economy.
“These small businesses that are struggling now will have the opportunity to thrive with the increased customer traffic. These visitors will pay gross receipts taxes into our local government but not require the services that residents do thereby lowering the tax burden on county residents,” Chrobocinski said. “With more things to do in our community, it will be more attractive to new residents making it easier for our top employers to recruit the best and brightest personnel.”
“There are so many positives that can come out of this it has to be our community’s and the County Council’s top priority to make sure we do this right.”
Councilors acknowledged the influx of tourism could have both negative and positive impacts for the community.
O’Leary noted the county will have to address infrastructure issues such as traffic and parking issues and make sure the regulatory environment “encourages and supports existing and new businesses.”
“These are not trivial issues.  Helping the Park reach its full potential, both for the National Park Service and for our community, will require county investment, focus and prioritization,” O’Leary said.
“Tourism as an economic engine can be very real; but we do want to harness it in the right way,” Henderson said.
“If we manage this growth properly, the more viable business community will make Los Alamos a better place to live for our residents and potential future residents,” Sheehey said.
Both O’Leary and Reiss noted that supporting the MPNHP will have to be a major focus when determining Capital Improvement Projects and other county initiatives.
Reiss pointed out that such a focus should improve quality of life for residents as well. He used the splash pad many residents have been asking for as an example, noting that such an attraction would appeal to tourists and residents alike.
“As we try to make ourselves more attractive and more of a destination, we can probably also justify some of our spending that attracts people to our community,” Reiss said.
One thing all councilors agreed on: this is big.
“It’s not every day that someone decides to create a national park in your community,” O’Leary said. “Los Alamos County clearly needs to be an active participant in making the most of this gift; and doing so in ways that create the most benefit to our citizens.”