Absolute silence is all Ken Christensen can remember hearing as
he walked near the old hemlock grove with others visiting the United Flight 93 crash site
in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.
2200-acre park is in an area commonly known as the Laurel
Highlands and lies on a plateau between the Allegheny Mountains on
the east and the Laurel Mountains on the west.
In the present temporary memorial, there are lots of trinkets,
coins, rocks and hats - little items left by visitors to honor the
memories of lives that were ended much too soon.
"It's a sobering experience," says Christensen, a biologist with
Stow, Ohio's Davey Resource
Group. "It reminds you that these people - these mothers and
fathers and sons and daughters - they were just going about their
normal daily lives. And then what they did - they're about the
closest you can get to real heroes."
That's why the National Park
Foundation is leading a $30-million campaign to fund the
construction of an actual memorial in full partnership with family
members, federally-appointed advisory commissioners, local
residents and the National Park Service. Construction is
underway and the memorial will be dedicated in 2011.
Christensen volunteered to visit the site in April because Davey
Tree is donating its services to the cause.
plan will preserve many of the existing features and introduce
newly constructed and natural elements. As envisioned in the
General Management Plan, visitors enter the park via Route 30, and
will first encounter the Tower of Voices, which will be set among
rings of pine trees and house 40 wind chimes. The sound is meant to
mimic many voices on phones as well as rushing wind - the last
distant memories of the people who gave their lives on Sept. 11,
2001 to save so many.
Then after crossing through former mining areas, a bowl-shaped
center will become the Field of Honor. Surrounding the field will
be a tree-lined walkway on a raised earth form with 40 memorial
groves comprised of 40 trees - one for each of the 40 heroes. A
visitor center will sit where the plane initially crossed into the
circle, near the Sacred Ground, the final resting place of the
passengers and crew. Here, visitors will be able to approach the
edge of the crash site. A grove of hemlock trees will be
visible in the background, as witnesses to the historic events that
took place here on that day.
The trees chosen to surround the Field of Honor will exhibit
vibrant fall color - mainly reds and yellows. Christensen and
others at Davey are helping recommend trees that best fit the
landscape architect's plan and the site conditions. The site
suffers from years of mining, which scarred the landscape. Acid
mine drainage continues to challenge the area.
So far, Christensen believes that trees that seem to be doing
best are those that adapt well in wetland situations, including red
maples and service berries. The sugar maple on the other hand,
prefers a more high and dry location.
"Ideally," Christensen says, "we like to suggest four or five
different genera to ensure a healthy forest environment."
The problem with just one species is that one insect or disease
that impacts one tree could mean not only devastation for that
tree, but also other similar trees in the area. An example is the
emerald ash borer affecting ash tree-lined streets.
"This way, if something goes wrong with one species, the whole
area isn't potentially affected," Christensen explains.
In addition to building a permanent, publicly-accessible
memorial at the crash site, the renovated area is meant to educate
and inspire visitors about the heroism and human courage exhibited
by the 40 passengers and
crewmembers from United Flight 93.
"It should be a really wonderful project when completed,"
Christensen says. "This will be a permanent living monument to not
only what happened, but to real life heroes."