Members of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial Committee have been working quickly to meet a self-imposed deadline to dedicate the ceremonial space. Passersby can clearly see the top of the rock that is the center of the memorial, as well as the landscaping around the berm design. The memorial is located next to the Great Falls library on Georgetown Pike near the center of town.
Originally, the committee, which raised the funds to pay for the memorial through private citizen and business donations, had planned to dedicate the memorial on Oct. 11, Columbus Day. That date was pushed back to allow as many elements of the design as possible to be incorporated into the memorial before the dedication.
"We are now looking at a Nov. 13 date for the dedication. We've set it for 1 p.m.," said Sara Hilgartner, a committee member. Mike Kearney, with Brogue Charities, which is helping to fund the memorial, said, "We're not backing off this date."
One of the reasons for the delay was apprehension about carving into the main rock that juts out of the center of the memorial several feet in the air. "We've had a couple of experts look at it and say that flattening out the big rock and carving into it could possibly damage it. We're looking at using another rock. We think this might be a good alternative, but we haven't made a decision yet. It's hoped it will be a different rock and not a plaque," said Hilgartner.
The inscription will briefly describe the reason for the memorial and whom it was created for.
"That's the biggest challenge we've been faced with - carving into that big, beautiful rock not being recommended. But we are just not going to take a chance. We had a unanimous vote [by the committee] not to take a chance," said Hilgartner.
KEARNEY ADDED, "I don't know if it's really a setback or not. It's very beautiful the way it is. We are working on other ways now to get our message out. We are trying to stay away from the bronze plaque. I don't think that's very Great Falls," said Kearney.
Hilgartner said, "The plaque is still a possibility, but it would be better, and more in keeping with our original plan, to have an additional rock."
There are several items in the design that are being waited for. Among these are the benches, granite pavers with the inspirational words that will line the walkway, flag poles, lighting, signage and some landscaping. There will be three flag poles, one each for the U.S. flag, Virginia state flag and the Fairfax County flag.
Charles Owen, with Fine Landscaping, coordinated the improvements to the grounds surrounding the Freedom Memorial. According to Owen, Maison et Jardin delivered the trees and shrubs that have been installed at the site. "Those were planted by a group of volunteers, Boy Scouts and their fathers," said Owen.
Once the granite carvings are in place, Owen and his team will complete the landscaping. "We are going to have flowering plants from spring to fall, with the heaviest blooms in fall to coincide with the 9/11 period," said Owen. Blue caryopteris, which blooms heavily that time of year, is being planted.
Because the Freedom Memorial was created out of a vigil for the six Great Falls victims who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, specific elements of the memorial honor those victims. The number six is echoed in different places of the memorial. However, the memorial honors all those in Dranesville who have given their lives in defense of and service to the cause of freedom.
There will be six trees situated around the perimeter of the memorial. Owen said, "The six weeping cherries are going to be dug this fall, after the first frost, to commemorate the six victims from our community."
"It's going to be a restful place with great blooms, a contemplative spot for everyone in Great Falls," said Owen. "It's coming together very well, all things considered, being a community project and all," Owen said.
Kearney and Hilgartner both said they have gotten only positive feedback on the look and progress of the Freedom Memorial. "I haven't heard any negative comments at all. In fact, they were extremely happy about us getting rid of the pile of weeds out front," said Kearney.
Another aspect of the Freedom Memorial that will soon be addressed is the space behind the library that serves as the starting point for the pathway to the memorial. "We really feel like the sidewalk is inviting. We are going to do a little landscaping back there around their pump stations to camouflage that," said Kearney.