Many Questions Surface In Preparing Community For Manhattan Project National Historical Park

Los Alamos County Councilors, County staff and MPNHP Committee members, during a work session March 24 in White Rock, discuss a mounting list of questions for preparing the community to receive an estimated 200,000 visitors annually. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

At right, Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director / MPNHP Committee Chair Heather McClenahan presents an update to County Council. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Council Chair Kristin Henderson and Councilor Steven Girrens listen to an update on the MPNHP project. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Los Alamos Daily Post

Executive Director Heather McClenahan of the Los Alamos Historical Society presented an update from the Manhattan Project National Historical Park (MPNHP) Committee to County Council last Tuesday and participated in a discussion with Council and County staff on a path forward.

Many questions surfaced during the discussion such as parking, hotels, restaurants, a location for a new visitor center and overall infrastructure to accommodate the estimated 200,000 visitors expected to be spending time in Los Alamos each year.

Council designated the Los Alamos Historical Society, through a resolution in September 2012, as the entity responsible for communicating the interests and participation of the County in the development of the proposed MPNHP. The resolution also authorized the Society to designate a representative to act on the County’s behalf in its role as facilitator of communications between the County and the other partners and entities participating in the process for establishing the Park. The Society Board of Directors appointed McClenahan to fill that role.

In January 2014, working with County Manager Harry Burgess and Councilor Fran Berting, McClenahan convened a committee to begin discussing the Park and identifying the various issues that must be addressed in order to prepare the community. Committee members have strived to balance the park visitor experience with the quality of life residents of Los Alamos enjoy — among them the small-town atmosphere, the safe streets, and the stunning vistas, she said. 

McClenahan advised Council that her report may contain more questions than answers, but they are questions the Council and County staff need to begin addressing now considering the Park is a reality. It will be important for park visitors to have a great experience when they come to Los Alamos while still allowing residents to get to their destinations without being overwhelmed by visitor traffic, pedestrians and parked cars.

One of the Manhattan Project sites – Los Alamos; Oak Ridge, Tenn. or Hanford, Wash. will be chosen as the Park Headquarters.

“There’s been a lot of cooperation (between the three sites) to get this done and it would be a tragedy to start fussing about where the headquarters should be,” McClenahan said.

Councilor Steven Girrens commented that he would rather see Los Alamos be a gateway to all three parks than worry about being a Park Headquarters for the Park Service.

Councilor Susan O’Leary said it’s appropriate for Los Alamos to argue that it should host the Park Headquarters, vying for the high paying federal jobs and locally-based decision authority that will go with the Headquarters operations. 

“I expect Oak Ridge and Hanford to make similar proposals, and I think our chances to land the Headquarters on the merits in a fair competition are great,” she said. 

O’Leary suggested that the prime focus should be on positioning the County as the gateway for the three-park cluster that MPNHP, Bandelier and the Valle Caldera National Preserve will form. 

“To me, capitalizing on the three-park with three-theme appeal of culture, nature and history presents an opportunity to elevate our profile as a destination with a diverse bundle of attractions that could provide substantial economic development benefits for our community,” she said. “The County has a big opportunity and a lot of unsettled questions as Valle Caldera and MPNHP evolve and we need an open, robust public discussion to help us find the right path for leveraging that opportunity.”

During public comment, community member Rick Stupka raised the question of whether buildings at Los Alamos National Laboratory will be part of the MPNHP, and if so, would that prevent those structures from being decommissioned. McClenahan said there are 17 structures utilized during the Manhattan project at LANL that are part of the MPNHP such as V-Site, S-Site, Pond Cabin and a couple of structures in TA-18 among others. 

“Dec. 31, 1946 is the end date that encompasses the Manhattan Project,” McClenahan said, adding that anything built after that date does not qualify for inclusion including the tower at the entrance to town, which dates to the Cold War era.

Discussion touched on how the public will access the 17 structures since LANL is a working Laboratory.

Many more questions were raised during last Tuesday’s work session and there was talk of possibly hiring a fulltime person at the county to oversee the project.

“This project has a lot of moving parts and the way I would attack this is to make a giant board with all that has to be done and then break down each element … to help us keep track of deadlines and interfaces,” Girrens said. “We need a mission control.”

Council Chair Kristin Henderson said she is aware that the other two sites have elected leadership committees and are moving forward.

“We want this to be a park the community loves and we want to capitalize on the economic benefit,” Henderson said.

MPNHP Committee Members:

  • Fran Berting
  • Brian Bosshardt
  • Linda Deck
  • Dan Erickson
  • David Izraelevitz
  • Jason Lott
  • Heather McClenahan
  • Ellen McGehee
  • Nancy Partridge
  • Mark Rayburn
  • Georgia Strickfaden
  • Ron Wilkins
  • With input from:
  • Jill Carrothers
  • Philip Kunsberg
  • Greg Fisher
  • Nancy Talley
From left, Councilors Susan O’Leary, James Chrobocinski and Rick Reiss. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Council Chair Kristin Henderson and Councilor Steven Girrens listen to community member Rick Stupka during the break. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

From left, Bradbury Science Museum Director Linda Deck, MainStreet Director Suzette Fox and LACDC Board Chair Bill Wadt. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

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