Dayton still pushing for national park to note role in Manhattan Project

DAYTON — Local heritage leaders are proposing a national park to commemorate Dayton’s vital contribution to the Manhattan Project that could be operated locally but recognized and funded through the National Park Service.

The proposal was presented to National Park Service officials after a park service study failed to recommend Dayton as a potential site for a new national heritage park devoted to the Manhattan Project — the $4 billion, top-secret effort during World War II to develop the first atomic bomb.

Dayton was one of four sites studied for a new park because it’s where the polonium trigger for the atomic bomb was designed and built. Historians agree that, without the success of the work done in Dayton, the bomb would have never worked.

Of four sites studied, the park service recommended only Los Alamos, N.M., where the Manhattan Project was headquartered, for a new national park. Dayton, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Hanford, Wash., were dismissed for cost reasons.

Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the Dayton Aviation Heritage Alliance, said it’s crucial that the National Park Service “put its brand” on any memorial to the Manhattan Project here in order to recognize its national significance, guarantee federal funding and help promote tourism.

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The park service could alter its report, based on input from Dayton area officials, before taking its final recommendations to Congress later this winter. Either way, the final decision for a new national park and its location belongs to Congress, said Michael Gessel, a lobbyist for the Dayton Development Coalition.

“It’s common for Congress to act on its own independent of a recommendation from the park service,” he said. He added that Congress also considers citizen input and the political push behind any bill designating a new national park.

The Dayton proposal asks the park service to recognize and protect two local Manhattan Project sites that still exist — the storage buildings surrounding the former Bonebrake Theological Seminary, 1601 W. First St., and the General Electric Supply Warehouse, 601 E. Third St.

Two other demolished sites associated with the project would be recognized with National Park Service markers — the former Runnymede Playhouse in Oakwood and the original Monsanto research laboratory at 1515 Nicholas Road.

The local proposal also asks the park service to grant its authorization for federal funding and to put up the park’s signage. Finally, it asks that Dayton History interpret and tell the story of the Manhattan Project here.

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