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Sequester stalls Mall cleanup

Conservatively, the July 4 fireworks show on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., attracts several hundred thousand visitors and generates huge amounts of trash. It’s almost a miracle that by the following dawn, all that trash is gone, thanks to National Park Service crews working all night. Not this year.

The Mall eventually was cleaned up – but during regular working hours. Thanks to the sequester the Park Service budget for the Mall took a $1.6 million hit that eliminated overtime for the cleanup.

But rapid cleanups are not at the top of the list of problems for the Mall. The Mall may be the nation’s most visited national park. It draws 25 million visitors a year.

Through age and hard use, the Mall has taken a beating. While it still looks magnificent from a distance, closer inspection reveals lawns worn down to the dirt, broken sidewalks, puddles from bad drainage, crumbling sea walls and a serious dearth of places to eat and go to the bathroom.

The Reflecting Pool has been drained and relined. A rare earthquake in 2011 resulted in unscheduled plans to refurbish the Washington Monument. The monument grounds would get a new amphitheater for its popular concerts and outdoor movies.

With Congress in no mood to spend, saving the Mall will likely be more of a private endeavor. The Trust for the National Mall aims to raise $350 million for restoration. In May, Volkswagen of America announced a $10 million gift – the largest to date – in hopes other corporations will follow its example.

Perhaps on a Fourth of July not far off, the trash once again will be gone when the sun rises July 5. After all, the Mall belongs to all of us.