The Mount Rushmore (MORU) National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota is one of the most iconic national memorials administered by the National Park Service (NPS). It is the state’s most popular attraction with about 3,000,000 annual visitors from around the world.
The carvings of MORU (Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and T. Roosevelt) were blasted out of the smooth, fine grain granite by some 400 workers between 1927 and 1941. Each carving is about 60 feet tall on southeast side of the mountain, which is 5,725 feet above sea level and some 500 feet above the Amphitheater.
This news report from South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) provides additional background on the history and the issues.
MOUNT RUSHMORE EVALUATION
- From 1998 to 2001 and 2003 to 2009 a non-profit organization (NPO) that partners with the NPS at MORU sponsored a fireworks display on July 3rd.
- The fireworks displays were fired by a professional fireworks display company and consisted of thousands of aerial fireworks up to 12” fired electrically from high density polyethylene (HDPE) mortars in above ground wood frame racks, as well as multiple tube devices (cakes) from the Hall of Records.
- In February 2009, NPS staff completed an internal report that addressed concerns with the feasibility of the location of the discharge site, to the manner in which fireworks display was set up and conducted, to the challenges with a fireworks display in a forest on steep slopes, to the safety and security of the spectators, to the compliance with national fire codes, as well as Federal and state laws.
- The 2010 fireworks display was cancelled based on the concerns raised in the 2009 NPS report and recent forest conditions that increased the fuel load.
- On May 6, 2019, the Department of the Interior and the State of South Dakota signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) “to work to return fireworks to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in a safe and responsible manner on July 3, July 4, or July 5, beginning in the year 2020”.
- In July 2019, staff from MORU and Regional NPS offices as well as from the South Dakota State Fire Marshal (SD SFM) and the Rapid City Fire Department (RC FD) surveyed potential discharge sites at MORU for a fireworks display in early July 2020. The group determined there were six potential discharge sites.
- On September 6, 2019 the NPS retained the Author to conduct a survey and evaluation of the potential discharge sites to comply with national fire codes and best practices, as well as Federal and state laws.
- The NPS provided the Author with the information available to date and the Author researched additional public information.
FIREWORKS DISPLAY OF JULY 3, 2020
The contract was awarded after the State of South Dakota and the NPS evaluated proposals from a number of companies.
NPS DECLINED SPECIAL EVENT PERMIT FOR 2021
The NPS routinely evaluates special events and this one was no different. As stewards of our national parks and monuments, the NPS is charged with preserving and protecting these treasures as well as providing for public and employee safety.
After evaluating the issues with the July 3, 2020 fireworks display, the NPA declined to issue a special use permit to conduct a fireworks event at Mount Rushmore on July 3, 2021.
The reasons cited were:
- public and employee health issues with a large public gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic
- objections from sovereign tribes with treaty rights to the land
- the logistics with turning away tens of thousands of visitors (only guests with special event tickets are allowed to enter for the all day event of presentations, speeches and music culminating with the fireworks display) [there is only one road to the monument and normally visitors come and go throughout the day]
- the environmental concerns over perchlorate contamination and potential for wildfires
- an ongoing construction project at the monument.
The State of South Dakota sued the NPS claiming the decision was “arbitrary and capricious”, but the final court ruling was the NPS acted according to the law, so the special event permit denial was sustained.
What’s next for fireworks displays from Mount Rushmore in 2022 and beyond?
The construction project is completed. The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually subside. But the other three reasons the NPS declined the special event permit for 2020 have not changed; in fact these reasons were in play for all prior years and will be in play for all future years.
The NPS will continue to consider and evaluate these reasons with the various sovereign tribes, the State of South Dakota and others, but whether there will be another July 3rd fireworks display at Mount Rushmore remains to be seen.