Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Editorial | July 5, 2015
Late last year, Congress OK’d the establishment of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, a unique national park with locations in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford, Washington, as well as in Oak Ridge.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who helped sponsor the legislation, said the national park would “preserve and protect one of the most historic events in American history.”
Attention now turns to where the headquarters of the park will be located, a decision to the made by the Department of the Interior.
We think Oak Ridge is the obvious choice, for many reasons.
First, the history of the project at Oak Ridge is especially fascinating, reflecting the “Greatest Generation” theme of sacrifice and contribution. Many families gave up their homesteads in Roane and Anderson counties and were forced to relocate. Then, some 75,000 workers moved in, confined to the “Secret City” where they labored around the clock on a task about which they knew almost nothing.
Much of the legacy of those heroic days remains intact in Oak Ridge. Facilities exist that could house the initial operations of the National Park Service, including the original “checkpoint” guard house near the main entrance to Oak Ridge, which includes office space and a conference room with relics of the Manhattan Project. Within the city of Oak Ridge, more than 5,000 of the “alphabet” houses built for the workforce are still standing, in use and known by their 1940s-designated styles: A,B,C, D and E.
Oak Ridge will, in fact, be the most extensive of the Manhattan park sites. In developing the concept, the Department of Energy identified three Oak Ridge landmarks as “signature facilities” — the former K-25 gaseous diffusion plant, the Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Beta-3 caultrons at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. Additionally, Oak Ridge is home to the restored Alexander Inn “Guest House,” where the likes of Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer and Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves stayed during work on the nuclear bomb.
There is no question that Oak Ridge’s role was central in the Manhattan Project and beyond. Its facilities produced the first material for bombs and for nuclear power plants, and it was the birthplace of nuclear medicine. Today, at the Y-12 plant, Oak Ridge continues to be a hub for the handling of nuclear weapons, and at the national laboratory the city remains a nexus of world-leading scientific research.
The Oak Ridge section of the park almost certainly will be the most visited because of its location in the East near major cities and highways. Also, it will have as a neighbor the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America’s most visited national park, playing host to more than 10 million visitors a year.
The proximity of the Smokies park would be especially helpful to the superintendent of the Manhattan Project park, allowing the two sites to work together to develop programs and boost attendance. Also, the new park will benefit from the affection for national parks in this part of East Tennessee, where it was love of the Smoky Mountains that created that park.
Already, Oak Ridge is displaying the sort of community attitude that will make the new park a success, raising money for a new pavilion for the International Friendship Bell, the huge, bronze bell cast in Japan as a symbol of hope for peace and goodwill.
The Knoxville area has other assets that would complement the Manhattan Project National Park, too, including the McClung natural history museum at the University of Tennessee, the American Museum of Science and Energy and the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge and the Museum of Appalachia in Norris. All have exhibits adding to the story of the Manhattan Project in this region.
The concept of a multi-site park to commemorate the Manhattan Project is appropriate, but it’s hard to imagine a better spot for the headquarters than Oak Ridge.