It’s been 15 years since United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa. on Sept. 11. And the site which now houses the crash’s memorial has changed considerably.
“That was part of architect Paul Murdock’s vision for this memorial,” said Mike Litterst, spokesman for the National Park Service, “that it would not only be a site of healing for this country with regard to 9/11.”
Ten years after the crash, in 2011, a permanent memorial was dedicated and just last year officials unveiled a new visitor’s center.
The site, which served as a coal mine until 1995, now has more than 2 miles of walking trails and thriving groves as part of the National Forest Service’s efforts to reforest former coal mines.
The former site of industry and tragedy has become a wildlife refuge.
“What was once an abandoned coal mine has been turned into a very nice natural oasis,” Litterst said. “Trees have been planted, there are fields of wildflowers growing. Certainly things you would not have found here 15 years ago.”
And that “oasis” is drawing more visitors. Attendance at the Flight 93 Memorial is up by 40 percent this year, Litterst said. He attributed the growth to the memorial’s new features, such as the visitor’s center, but also the National Parks Centennial.
“There’s been a lot of publicity and promotional materials out there about the parks service,” he said.
Litterst said Sept. 11’s anniversary landing on a “landmark” anniversary – 15 years – is likely to draw more people this weekend, including on Sunday when several memorial events are planned.
An open air memorial service is planned for 10:03 a.m. Sunday, which is the same time that United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in 2001. A tolling of the bells and reading of all 40 passengers and crew members’ names will also take place.
Gov. Tom Wolf had originally planned to visit the Shanksville memorial for the service, but a spokesman said he would not be attending due to a family illness. Officials later said his father died Friday afternoon.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.