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Washington Post OpEd
November 11, 2022

I agree with Philip Kennicott’s Nov. 7 front-page Critic’s Notebook essay, “Stop building museums on the National Mall. Extend it.

When Congress established the Reserve — national park land on the cross-axis of the National Mall from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and the White House to the Jefferson Memorial — under the Commemorative Works Act in 2003, it considered that area a “completed work of civic art” in which no new memorials or buildings would be built.

The recommendation to situate the American Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino in the Reserve directly conflicts not only with the 2003 act but also with the 2020 law authorizing those museums, which states that they “shall not be located in the Reserve.”

During my 22 years with the legislative affairs office of the National Park Service (NPS), I saw exception after exception made by Congress to build memorials or buildings within the Reserve to mollify one group or another. Unfortunately, I have seen few members willing to defend the Reserve, as political expediency continues to win out time after time over the intent of the law.

A former deputy director of the National Park Service once lamented that our nation’s capital was becoming like so many of the major cities of Europe, where buildings and memorials are stacked one after another, eliminating green space and scenic vistas. It appears Washington is headed in the same direction. Our national park lands, our nation’s capital and the American people deserve better than this.

Donald J. Hellmann, Annandale

The writer is vice chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and former assistant director of legislative and congressional affairs for the National Park Service.