Two years ago, Hurricane Isabel devastated the 300 acres of George Washington's woodlands at his Mount Vernon Estate. The forest floor was strewn with debris, impeding new foliage growth and an increasing the threat of fire.
Last Friday, 300 tourism industry volunteers spread out across that acreage to restore the forest floor. They were part of a national effort by the industry to "give back to their country and help preserve" an American landmark.
Known as "Tourism Cares for Tomorrow," the nationwide organization and its annual project of historic preservation was the offspring of combining the National Tourism Foundation and the Travelers Conservation Foundation. Their efforts last weekend at Mount Vernon Estate was the third such endeavor.
COMPOSED OF transportation executives, hoteliers, tour operators, travel agents, convention and visitors bureau personnel, and other tourism industry professionals, the organization kicked off its 2005 project with a reception and briefing at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Thursday evening under the aegis of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association.
"We are delighted to bring members of the tourism industry to this icon of American history," said Bruce Beckham, executive director, Tourism Cares for Tomorrow. "Helping to preserve a significant attraction which is visited by one million people each year is a perfect way to show our collective commitment to this country's cultural sites."
Welcoming them to Alexandria was Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper who reminded the group that 8,000 Alexandrians work in the tourism industry. "I want you to know that George Washington not only slept here; he lived in our town," she said.
"He owned a house here, went to church here, and dined in the tavern here. He was also the Grandmaster of this lodge where you are tonight," Pepper said.
"We are so glad you are able to do this project. You are wonderful stewards of our historical properties. We in government count on our volunteers because we can not do everything. We count on people like you," she said.
"In Virginia Governor Warner has made historic tourism a central part of his administration. He is a champion of tourism and knows that tourism is big business," said Matt S. Erskine, deputy secretary, Virginia Commerce and Trade.
"There are more than 280,000 jobs in Virginia associated with tourism and it accounts for $80 billion per year in revenue to the Commonwealth. I truly think we have the finest tourism organizations in the nation," Erskine said.
"We all have a duty to preserve these places to tell the world who we are as American people. We can all be proud to play an ongoing role in the preservation of George Washington's estate," he said, the night before he joined the volunteers early Friday morning at the Estate.
Following their welcome, Dean Norton, director of horticulture at Mount Vernon Estate, explained the rationale behind the project. "Most of our forests are littered with debris. If a fire would occur it would burn extra hot and spread rapidly. Your efforts will help to prevent that," he said.
"This is also a very important part of our regeneration project. It will help prevent deer from continuing to damage the smaller trees. After you have finished, we will fence off areas to plant new sampling that the deer can not harm. This project will have results for up to 200 years," Norton said.
EARLY FRIDAY MORNING, assembled on the meadow facing the entrance to the Mansion, the 300-plus volunteers were told by James K. Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon Estate, "Every time we see Bruce Beckham we know something good is about to happen. And, today you are about to clean up what was left by Hurricane Isabel. Being one of the foremost farmers in America, George Washington was very dedicated to this land."
Tourism Cares for Tomorrow Foundation had previously donated $10,000 to refurbishing the Washingtons' bedroom, according to Rees. It was during that visit by Beckham to deliver the check that he decided to make Mount Vernon the organization's 2005 preservation/restoration project.
The Mount Vernon project was part of a nationwide series of conservation efforts sponsored by the organization under the Tourism-Caring for America banner. Due to budgetary cutbacks many of America's sites "important to the tourism industry, are becoming endangered by lack of maintenance and care," according to Beckham.
Tourism Cares' mission is to bring the industry together "to give back" as well as to demonstrate the "size and economic impact of the tourism industry to the public, governments, park services and its own workforce."
In two previous projects, industry volunteers performed an estimated $300,000 worth of work at the Ellis Island National Park site and were instrumental in preserving St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans by painting, cleaning and lime-washing tombs.
Joining industry volunteers were students from George Washington and Central Michigan universities. In addition to their "give back" restoration endeavors, the organization also provides approximately $1.5 million in scholarships and research grants, according to Beckham. It raises funds through memberships, auctions and special events.