WASHINGTON — Constitution Gardens sits adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool. It's a peaceful area and one of the few places on the National Mall where you can escape the crowds.
Lined with oak and willow trees, the peaceful pathway hugs the six-acre lake that sits in the center of the gardens. At first glance, it looks like a beautiful site. But in reality, according to environmental experts, the area is in serious trouble.
"From an ecological health point of view, this site is really suffering," Teresa Durkin, Executive Vice President of the Trust for the National Mall said.
Government buildings once occupied the area where Constitution Gardens sits. Those buildings were torn down in the late 1970s and the gardens were built in a haste as part of a beautification project in time for the bicentennial.
"What we're left with is a site that was filled in to begin with, so it doesn't have any native soils. It was compacted and then all of that debris is still underneath us from those buildings," Durkin said.
The man-made lake on site is only three feet deep with a concrete bottom. That environment makes it difficult for any wildlife to survive.
"This lake is more of a petri dish of polluted water with algae bloom. It's very disconcerting to see this on the National Mall. Any trash or debris that comes this way is going right into the lake," Durkin said.
There are now big plans underway to make Constitution Gardens a thriving ecosystem. Those plans include soil restoration for trees, new walking paths and excavating the lake to make it much deeper. Stormwater runoff issues will also be addressed during the restoration process.
"We will restore this lake to a biological system instead of an engineered system that's failed," Durkin said.
This is a priority sustainability project for the Trust for the National Mall.
"If the gardens are left untouched the whole place would become a swamp. It would, and we can't allow that to happen," Durkin said.
Although there's currently no final price tag for the project, the restoration project will likely cost tens of millions of dollars. The project will be completely funded by private donors. The Trust for the National Mall hopes to have this completed by 2026 in time for America's 250th birthday celebration.