Improvements made to Flight 93 visitors’ experience

By Vicki Rock Daily American

The National Park Service is adding panels to the Flight 93 National Memorial to help give people information about the site.

Three orientation panels at the Memorial Plaza and the parking areas have been a helpful addition to provide basic information to visitors before they walk to the Wall of Names, Barbara Black, chief of interpretation, told the Flight 93 Advisory Commission on Saturday.

“Visitors’ initial questions can be answered right away so that they are open to more questions and information from the rangers and volunteers,” she said.

New interpretive panels have been developed for the two pull-offs on the approach road. Installation was delayed because of tree planting and landscaping. The panels will be in place in the next few weeks.

“People will be able to learn the history of the land and be able to realize how the plane came down over Lambertsville and how people reacted,” Black said. “It’s a compelling place to stand and see where the plane came overhead. We still have a lot of work to do. We’re digging deeper into more information that we can provide people.”

The 30,000 informational rack cards printed were expected to last six months but were gone after three months. The cellphone tours have been well-received, she said. People with cellphones may call in and hear recorded information about the memorial. More than 7,000 calls have come in from phones registered in every state except Alaska and Montana. As of Saturday 723 bus tour groups had been to the site this year. That compares with 225 at this time last year. Only about half of the tour groups contact the Park Service ahead of time.

“We’ll be in a meeting and we’ll see buses coming in and we call the rangers to tell them that they’ve got a big group coming in,” park Superintendent Jeff Reinbold said.

A new video about Flight 93 will be given to tour groups to watch ahead of time. Ranger programs are offered twice each day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and once a day on weekdays. Ambassadors will begin giving talks in August. They are given at the benches near the visitor shelter.

“We have a very adaptive and evolving program,” commission member Jerry Spangler said. “From the beginning we have recognized this is the people’s memorial. The programming is very inclusive and reacts to what visitors are asking for.”

And visitors are coming in record numbers. Reinbold said that 300,000 people have visited the memorial since the dedication on September 11, including more than 150,000 in this calendar year. With more than a month of summer vacation left, the number of tourists could surpass the Park Service estimate of 400,000 visitors.

“To put it in perspective, in the almost 11 years prior to this one, we averaged 140,000 to 150,000 visitors a year,” Black said. “We’ve already far surpassed that.”

Reinbold is often asked about the economic impact of the visitors on local businesses. A 2010 study showed that $6 million was brought into the region each year from visitors going to the memorial. That was when only 130,000 visited each year.

Work is continuing at the site. The park maintenance staff reseeded the construction road that parallels the Memorial Plaza and are reseeding the September 11 event space.

Reinbold said those projects are part of the meadow restoration project that will bring the wildflowers and native grasses to the edge of the Memorial Plaza. That will strengthen the natural setting for the plaza that the architect desired. The staff also reconstructed and added drainage to the family trail that leads from the Wall of Names to the crash site. The trail was heavily rutted from erosion.

Commission member David Hollenberg asked if the hemlock grove is in danger from pests. Reinbold said they have found signs that the hemlock woolly adelgid is present.

The hemlock woolly adelgid is a tiny invasive species that first arrived in the U.S. in the 1920s. It can kill hemlocks in three to six years. The hemlock woolly adelgid has killed 90 percent of hemlock trees in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and vast stands in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

“The grove is of a size that it is treatable and we are prepared and taking measures against it,” Reinbold said.

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