The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and the Tri-Cities has a rare opportunity to join with the party.
That’s because Hanford’s B Reactor officially connected to the park system in November 2015 when the Manhattan Project National Historical Park became a reality.
The timing couldn’t be better.
Our community gets to celebrate the inaugural year of our own historical park at the same time the National Park Service is marking its centennial.
So as the entire country renews its focus on the value of America’s parks, we can highlight our own recent contribution to the system.
When people think of national parks, they typically think of the majestic mountains like Mount Rainier or stunning geographical sites like the Grand Canyon, the Redwoods or Crater Lake.
But the National Park Service also manages and protects national monuments and memorials, historic battlefields and historical parks, such as our own at Hanford.
The funding and approval of the Manhattan Project park was established by Congress in late 2014. It officially was created a year later with a signing ceremony putting the National Park Service in charge of three historical sites at Hanford, Los Alamos in New Mexico and Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Combined, the three locations tell the story of the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. Some people around the country — and even in our own state —have questioned why sites that contributed to the making of the most destructive weapon in the world would be turned into visitor attractions.
But while the devastation and horrendous loss of life caused by the atomic bomb is a critical and defining part of the story, it is not the whole story.
The scientific achievement, the fear driving the bombs’ production, the secrecy surrounding the project and how the workers lived during that era are all a significant part of our nation’s past.
Turning the B Reactor site into a national historical park changes everything. It naturally will attract visitors and provide new educational opportunities, but it also will put public access at a new level.
The Tri-Cities will get a taste of how transformative the new park status is next month. A series of events are planned to help launch the new community partnership, including performances by the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers inside the B Reactor on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2.
Never before has a full-scale choral concert been performed in the defunct nuclear reactor. The music will reflect themes of Hanford history, war and peace. Tickets are on sale now. Go to midcolumbiamaster singers.org for more information.
Washington State University Tri-Cities also will hold an open house on Sept. 28 where Hanford artifacts will be on public display for the first time. A centennial celebration and fundraiser for the park service and Hanford History project will be held the next day at the WSU Wine Science Center.
In addition, there will be a 15-mile bike ride sponsored by REI and Bike Tri-Cities on Oct. 1 that will begin and end at B Reactor. These events are just the beginning, and are exactly the kind of experiences people hoped would be available once B Reactor became more accessible.
Our country’s national park system is an American treasure, and it is exciting that our community is such a big part of it now.
As the Manhattan National Historical Park begins to take shape, we should all acknowledge the importance of preserving our country’s history and its beauty — and how vital the National Park Service is.