WASHINGTON -- The reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall reopened Friday after a two-year, $34 million reconstruction, completing the largest National Park Service project funded by President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package.
Visitors and construction workers gathered to snap photos and cheered as construction fences were taken down. National Mall Superintendent Robert Vogel told the crowd to "come on in."
It was likely the largest reconstruction project in the mall's history. A rededication ceremony is planned Sept. 29.
"It's just an incredible space here and one of the most photographed locations in the United States," Vogel said as the pool reopened. "It's an iconic view of the Lincoln on one side and the Washington on the other. It's now complete."
The pool and grounds have long been a gathering place for historic events. It's where thousands converged in August 1963 to hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech, and it has hosted protests and presidential celebrations.
The pool had stagnant water, though, and had begun to leak and sink into the land dredged from the Potomac River to build the memorial site.
Now the pool has been reengineered with a circulation and filtration system. Instead of using city drinking water, it draws river water from the nearby Tidal Basin, which will save 20 million gallons of drinking water each year.
The pool is shallower -- only 3 feet at its deepest point -- to save water, and its bottom is tinted gray to make the water darker and more reflective of the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument.
Dave and Patricia Smith of San Diego were visiting the National Mall on Friday for the first time since the nation's bicentennial in 1976.
"It's not only reflecting, it's reflective," Dave Smith, 74, said of the new pool. The Navy veteran and retired dentist also visited the Lincoln Memorial and said "you just feel the history come alive."
For two years, the massive reconstruction project shut down a large swath of the National Mall as the old pool was removed. The new pool was built with new walking paths along each side to accommodate millions who visit the site each year. Previously, visitors created their own dirt walking paths through the grass.
Planners included security features to prevent a vehicle from reaching the Lincoln Memorial for a potential terrorist attack. Now the site is rid of ugly concrete temporary barriers that lined the grounds for years.
Some in Congress blasted such stimulus projects as wasteful spending. But Patricia Smith, who owns an art gallery near San Diego, said she was glad to see an improved National Mall.
"It's kind of refreshing," she said. "We're kind of political junkies, and when you see all the crap that's going on in Congress, you know, it's kind of discouraging. But it's pretty wonderful to see the history and know that democracy can survive."