Call it the nation's largest national historical park.
That will be the case if Congress acts on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's request that it create a national historical park commemorating the work of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort during World War II to create an atomic bomb.
Under the secretary's suggestion, the park would be located in three different states -- Washington state, New Mexico, and Tennessee.
“The secret development of the atomic bomb in multiple locations across the United States is an important story and one of the most transformative events in our nation’s history,” Secretary Salazar said Wednesday in announcing his request. “The Manhattan Project ushered in the atomic age, changed the role of the United States in the world community, and set the stage for the Cold War.”
The National Park Service, at the direction of Congress, conducted a special resource study on several Manhattan Project sites for possible inclusion in the National Park System. The study, released to Congress this week, recommends that the best way to preserve and interpret the Manhattan Project is for Congress to establish a national historical park at three sites where much of the critical scientific activity associated with the project occurred: Los Alamos, New Mexico; Hanford, Washington; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
The legislation that authorized the study in 2004 was sponsored by Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).
“Once a tightly guarded secret, the story of the atomic bomb’s creation needs to be shared with this and future generations,” said Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “There is no better place to tell a story than where it happened, and that’s what national parks do. The National Park Service will be proud to interpret these Manhattan Project sites and unlock their stories in the years ahead.”
Sean Smith, policy director of the National Parks Conservation Association, praised the move.
"We thank Sec. Salazar, Sen. Bingaman, and Rep. Hastings for their efforts to see that a Manhattan Project National Historic Park be established, allowing for park rangers to tell the story of atomic energy and deepening our understanding and appreciation of our national history," he said. “Creating this park provides an opportunity to tell and interpret an incredibly important piece of American and world history, and to allow contemporary society to better understand the pros and cons of the complex and difficult decision to use the bomb."
Operating from December, 1942 until September, 1945 the Manhattan Project was a $2.2 billion effort that employed 130,000 workers at its peak, but was kept largely secret and out of public view.
The study suggests that relevant resources in Dayton, Ohio, and other sites where activity contributing to the project occurred could be associated with the proposed national historical park, but would not be part of the actual park.
The recommendation has been endorsed by the Department of Energy, which would partner with the National Park Service in developing and managing the proposed park. The study calls for the Department of Energy to continue managing and operating the facilities associated with the Manhattan Project and for the National Park Service to provide interpretation and education in connection with these resources.
It is now up to Congress and the president to decide whether to designate a national historic park. If designated, the National Park Service would work with the Department of Energy and consult with the public and other stakeholders to develop a management plan.
In conducting the study, the National Park Service undertook an extensive public involvement process engaging state and local governments, private property owners, interested organizations, and others. Through this process, strong public support emerged for preserving resources associated with the Manhattan Project and making the story of this remarkable effort more broadly known.