By Bernie Hornick The Tribune-Democrat
SOMERSET— Visitation to the recently dedicated Flight 93 National Memorial is running double the levels of previous years, its advisory board learned Saturday.
Barbara Black, National Park Service site curator, said more than 160,000 people have visited the Shanksville site this year – already topping the 145,000 average for other full calendar years.
About 723 buses have come through the gates since Jan. 1 – compared with 225 at this time last year – and not all of them call ahead.
“We get a lot of drop-ins,” Black said in a report at the quarterly meeting of the Flight 93 Advisory Commission. “We’re on the phone to alert the rangers: ‘You got a lot of folks coming.’”
Jeff Reinbold, park service supervisor for western Pennsylvania, picked up on the theme. “We’ve learned from teachers how powerful it is to bring students down to the site,” he said.
The 135,000 visitors in 2010 spent an estimated $6 million, Reinbold said.
At that and higher spending levels, the memorial could recoup its $62 million investment in visitor outlays in five to 10 years, he said.
And people will be staying longer come 2014, Reinbold said, when the visitors center is expected to open.
Black said that two new interpretive panels – discussing Lambertsville and the ill-fated plane’s flight path – will be in place at road pull-offs in about a week. Those panels were delayed due to landscaping.
Reinbold said the park service is working with the Harpers Ferry Center on exhibit planning and design for the visitors center. Contracts for the visitors center are expected to be let in the fall.
Board member Jerry Spangler said he was pleased with the displays at the site, including cellphone options, which, he said, don’t “lecture” the visitor.
“The programming is very inclusive and responsive to what the visitors are asking for,” he said. “We listen and we learn.”
Board Chairman John Reynolds of San Francisco said, “If this park doesn’t have the best oral history project in the National Park Service, I would be very surprised.”
In other reports at the 36th quarterly board meeting at the park service offices, 109 W. Main St.:
Reinbold said the woolly adelgid – a parasite – has infected some of the iconic hemlocks by the crash site.
The bug has devastated stands of trees in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
But Reinbold said the local trees are of a manageable number and will be treated to eliminate the parasite.
Reynolds defended the few protesters – conspiracy theorists – who have shown up on the park grounds.
“We have a protester saying what probably none of us in this room agrees with,” he said. “I personally cherish the idea that it (free speech) happens.”
Members were told that the just-passed federal transportation bill was expected to include money for a pedestrian bridge over wetlands inside the park.
Members learned that in May Black taught about a dozen people the techniques for cleaning the polished and unpolished marble on the Wall of Names. The group then cleaned the memorial to the 40 innocents who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.
The work is similar to a project conducted regularly at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.