Tribune Democrat: By David Hurst

When a National Park Service study was completed a decade ago on plans for a national Flight 93 memorial, officials projected it would draw 300,000 visitors annually to the former strip mine-turned sacred ground.

But the site was already exceeding those numbers before the National Park Service opened the doors to its multi-million dollar visitor center last September. And this year, the still-growing park is expected to welcome more than 500,000 people by year's end, park officials said.

That might seem surprising, with the site sometimes overshadowed by its more high-profile counterparts in New York City and Washington, D.C. But Steve Clark, who oversees the site and four others, expects that traffic to the Flight 93 National Memorial will only continue to grow.

"When you look at the isolation of this area, to have a half million people wanting to come here and pay their respects, that's an impressive number," said Clark, superintendent for the National Park Service's Western Pennsylvania District.

Clark said this year's 15th anniversary of 9/11 likely helps the numbers – and he credited the Friends of Flight 93 group and Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau for drawing attention to the crash site.

He credited "word of mouth" for drawing people to the "special place."

"There's a visitors center here now with powerful exhibits," Clark said.

But the national memorial is a work in-progress, with its 93-foot-tall Tower of Voices not expected to be finished until 2018.

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