Trust for the National Mall: Preserving America’s Front Yard


Q: For people who may not know, could you tell us the story of why and how the Trust was created?

A: The Trust for the National Mall was ultimately created because there was no organization that was mobilizing the private sector to bring private resources to a public park – the National Mall. The story began when D.C. developer Chip Akridge took a meeting with a young professional who was appealing to him to take a closer look at the Mall, to see behind the beauty and into the damage and upgrades that it really needed. Chip had always been active on the Mall – being both an avid runner and a veteran, but this time he went down with his contractor hat on to see it from a different viewpoint. What he found was a lot of problems, some small and some very large. It was then, in 2003, that he began knocking on the door of the National Park Service. It took until 2007, but NPS finally signed and sealed on an agreement with Chip, and the Trust for the National Mall was born, becoming an official partner of the National Park Service.


Q: Talk to us about the Trust’s vision for the National Mall and the types of renovations required to transform it into a “Modern Urban Park?”

A: Part one of the vision for the National Mall is to fulfill the National Mall Plan, which was written in 2010 by thousands of stakeholders to really address the areas of the National Mall that need serious restoration and maintenance. So that plan is really the blueprint for tackling some of these projects which can be categorized into three areas: monuments and memorials, the utility and facility areas of the mall, and the open public spaces and amenities. So the Trust for the National Mall’s vision is divided into a couple of different things: to tackle the restoration needs by bringing private resources, expediting and bringing innovation to those restoration needs, taking on the long term maintenance of those needs, and lastly to bring better programming to the table in order to create an enriched visitor experience.

The types of renovations required would be to look at those spaces like Constitution Gardens, the areas surrounding the Washington Monument (where we have our vision for Sylvan Theater) and the areas between the Korean War Memorial and the D.C. War Memorial (where we will rebuild the U.S. Park Police Horse Stables). The Tidal Basin and surrounding cherry trees – really all of the areas that have high traffic have an urgent need for renovation and a more modern urban and educational experience.

Q: Of all the projects your team has completed thus far, which are you most proud of and why? And which, past, present or future project do you think will have the biggest impact?

A: I would say that thus far the project we’re most proud of is the Lockkeeper’s House. Why? Because it is the oldest structure on the National Mall and has served many significant purposes, but has never been open to the public. It’s been boarded up and an eyesore for the last 40 years and the Trust moved it, restored it and renovated it and has turned it into an educational enrichment space that really tells the story of the National Mall for the first time. There is no other place on the National Mall that you can learn about the National Mall. So what we are so proud of is that we’ve modernized it but also preserved its history and it’s now open to the public for people to enjoy – it’s enriching the lives of those who visit it. And to see people learning and absorbing history in this tiny space that serves as an impactful gateway to the Mall is really special.

A past, present or future project with the biggest impact – that’s definitely the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab. I believe this project will have the greatest impact because it is the greatest need on the National Mall right now with over $300 million needed to support the Tidal Basin and seawalls. The seawalls, infrastructure-wise are crumbling and compromised by daily flooding which also impacts the beloved cherry trees surrounding the space. So the time is now to come up with a solution. The Ideas Lab will have a far-reaching impact if the designs that are developed really resonate with the general public and with Congress enough to provide the millions of dollars that are going to be needed to reimagine and provide long-term sustainability to that space.


Q: Tell us a little bit about the partnerships your organization has fostered over the years and how those relationships have contributed to the preservation of the National Mall?

A: Our number one partner is the National Park Service – because without the Park Service and the Trust collaborating and having a shared vision and shared action plan for the National Mall, we would not be able to get the work done. So, they are doing their part but they cannot do it alone and they need the help of organizations like the Trust for the National Mall.

The second would probably be the National Park Foundation because they are a much larger and stronger organization bringing visibility, engagement and resources to parks across the country which makes them a critical partner.

Lastly, our newest partner, the National Trust for Historic Preservation who has been vital in providing us with the collaborative opportunity to really take a look at the Tidal Basin and to be a part of that project with us and the Park Service to make the greatest possible impact in the preservation of that space.

Q: What’s your background and how did you come to be involved with the Trust?

A: I’ve always been a mission-driven type, and I’ve always wanted to help organizations and missions to be effective and successful. I want to have an impact, and to feel good about my contributions in my career. My background lies in nonprofit management and growth, and more specifically over the last 10 years working to support organizations looking to re-strategize and refocus, and to help come up with new solutions to be successful in achieving their mission. So I’ve always been very passionate about contributing to important missions, and I find the Trust to have a particularly important mission.

I heard about the open position at the Trust from a few different sources, I knew that they were looking for somebody to lead the organization. I ended up getting a call to be considered for the role, and ultimately chose to join the Trust because I have lived in Washington D.C. for the last 30 years and have built a home and a family just a short walk from the National Mall and have always enjoyed all that the Mall has to offer. So it’s not only America’s Front Yard but it’s also been my personal back yard and my kids have grown up on it and I find it to be an incredible place. I got excited about how I could help the Trust achieve its mission and really it was an easy decision to make.


Q: What is your favorite pastime on the National Mall? (ie. going for a run, playing a sport, taking in the historic sights etc.)

A: I would say that what I most enjoy is really cycling around the Mall! Another favorite pastime of mine is visiting the Lincoln Memorial in the evening when tourists have dispersed and everything is beautifully lit up.

Q: Tell us a few fun facts about the National Mall that not many people know?   

A: There are plenty of unknown facts about the National Mall but I think one most people wouldn’t know is that the Lockkeeper’s House was the original entry point of the National Mall before the land was filled and the space where the Lincoln Memorial and Tidal Basin was created. And secondly I would say that it usually comes as a surprise to the public to find out that there is an undercroft, a cathedral structure that is actually holding up the Lincoln Memorial which is truly a fascinating fact.


Q: Each year the Trust host’s a prestigious event called Ball for the Mall, tell us more about the event and share with us a behind-the-scenes moment.

A: BALL for THE MALL is our premier event on the National Mall each spring. It is the only gala in D.C. held on the grounds of the National Mall and we use it as an opportunity to name the recipients of our History, Heroes, and Hope Award and to update guests on our projects and how they can continue to help us achieve our mission. Work happens behind-the-scenes all year to make BALL for THE MALL a success but as far as the actual event goes, everyone can experience a “behind-the-scenes” moment with our monument gazing patio. It gives guests a chance to step away and catch their breath among the beautifully lit monuments of the National Mall.

Q: Talk to us about some of your current campaigns and initiatives like Endow a Cherry Tree and #SaveTheTidalBasin or any others?

A: We just launched our #SaveTheTidalBasin Campaign on April 3rd and in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation have invited nationally recognized design teams to work on a solution to the infrastructure needs that the Tidal Basin faces – so there will be a lot of exciting updates to come this year. We’re kicking off year two of our Endow A Cherry Tree Campaign, which invites corporations, individuals and teams to participate in a peer-to-peer initiative to endow all 3,800 cherry trees on the National Mall. We’re also very excited to break ground on the U.S. Park Police Horse Stables on the National Mall, which we hope to finish by 2021.


Q: Lastly, what are some ways that individuals and businesses can support the Trust? 

A: We have a new membership program for individuals and we also have a Corporate Leadership Council for businesses that want to support and to be part of a core group of dynamic business leaders supporting the National Mall. We have great volunteer opportunities year round as well as two larger National Mall Days of Service in the fall and spring. The Trust is a 501c3 so individual and corporate support are critical to our success. We encourage everyone to go to and learn more about how to help us achieve our mission.

Photos courtesy of the Trust for the National Mall.