Several national park sites span two time zones, such as North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, whose North Unit operates on Central Time and South Unit operates on Mountain Time. One U.S. national park site, however, spans three different time zones. Can you name this site?
The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is notable for many reasons. It is one of our newest national park sites, established in 2015. The National Park Service manages it through a unique partnership with the Department of Energy, the federal agency that owns the property. The park preserves buildings and equipment used in creating the world’s first nuclear weapons and helps to interpret the moral and ethical dilemmas that this devastating technology introduced to the world. It has opened places to the public that once only existed behind top-secret security fences. It is also one of very few national park sites that was specifically designated to interpret the history of science and technology in the United States.
But beyond its exceptional historic and technological significance, this park is also notable because it spans three time zones. It covers so much ground not because it is vast, but because its facilities and artifacts are divided among three different cities in completely different parts of the country: the former laboratories and living quarters of the lead scientists in Los Alamos, New Mexico; the site of the first industrial-scale plutonium reactor, known as the “B Reactor,” in Hanford, Washington; and three facilities where a formidable crew of workers, mostly young women, unknowingly enriched uranium in the “Atomic City” of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
These individual units are three of more than 30 Manhattan Project research and production sites that once dotted the map, and they represent critical pieces in the story of the making of the atomic bomb. A number of enthusiasts and preservationists worked for nearly two decades to formally protect these properties and keep their artifacts from being lost.
Cynthia Kelly, founder and executive director of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, was working for the Department of Energy in 1997 when she learned that members of the agency were planning to destroy the remaining Manhattan Project sites. She sprang into action to help determine the historic significance of the properties, enlist a broad coalition of advocates to defend them and sway members of Congress to support bills that would preserve them. Part of the reason it took so many years to win official national historical park status for these sites was the fact that they are spread across three cities, in some ways tripling the work. The Department of Energy also invested significant time and resources in decontaminating former work sites so they are safe for the public.
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Visitor services vary and not all of the properties at each site are currently open, but the Atomic Heritage Foundation has a “Ranger in Your Pocket” series designed to help people take self-guided tours — or just learn more about these remarkable places, whatever time zone you happen to be in. The foundation’s website has a wealth of information on this historical park, including hundreds of oral histories from many of the people involved and news on how this technology continues to influence the world.
About the author
Jennifer Errick Managing Editor of Online Communications
Jennifer co-produces NPCA's podcast, The Secret Lives of Parks, and writes, edits and moderates online content.