Amid growing complaints that the National Park Service is intentionally blocking viewing areas of Mount Rushmore, the federal agency said Wednesday that it would reopen a pull-out area to visitors.
Tensions have been high in the Black Hills since the federal government partially closed last week, forcing the region's iconic landmark to shutdown.
But hundreds of tourists complained that not only was Mount Rushmore's visitor center closed, it appeared that rangers were intentionally placing cones along the highway to stop drivers from pulling over to take photos of the monument.
"It just seems like it's over the top," said Tom Hagen, owner-operator of Rushmore Cave, who fielded a barrage of complaints last week from tourists. "Why wouldn't you let someone pull over and take a picture?"
But the National Park Service said Wednesday that it had never intended to ruin anyone's view of Mount Rushmore.
"None of that is correct," said Patricia Trap, the deputy director of the agency's Midwest region.
Trap said that because the agency had only a limited number of rangers available during the shutdown, it had rationed them to maintain security. She said some pull-outs had been blocked with cones because there weren't enough rangers to monitor those areas.
Trap said the agency was now reopening a pull-out area that it believed had stirred the bulk of controversy — unofficially called "profile pull-out" — that offers a popular side-on view of the monument.
Trap said it was reopening the area over concerns about public safety: Illegal parking was becoming an issue. In addition, at least one driver, in protest, had driven over the cones.
She added that the agency had figured out a way to rearrange its rangers while still maintaining security, helped in part by state highway officers.
"I just want to reiterate that we very much appreciate our continued working relationship with the State of South Dakota," she said.