The National Parks Service rejected a last-minute offer from Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Friday to use state resources to keep Mount Rushmore National Memorial open if the federal government were to shut down.
Daugaard said Mount Rushmore is too important -- both economically and symbolically -- to close.
Before the budget deal was announced late Friday night, Dusty Johnson, Daugaard's chief of staff, said Daugaard didn't think a closure was acceptable.
"It's America's shrine to democracy," Johnson said.
But the National Park Service said it had rejected Daugaard's offer.
"We thank the governor for his offer and appreciate his support for the national parks," Kendra Barkoff, press secretary for the Department of the Interior, said in an email to the Rapid City Journal in response to an enquiry about whether the federal government would accept the state's offer. "Unfortunately, if Congress is not able to reach agreement and the federal government is shut down, all national parks would have to be closed."
Although Barkoff sent her statement to the Rapid City Journal, Johnson said the state hadn't received an official response as of 5 p.m. Friday.
"I don't know that it comes as a huge surprise, but it is a huge disappointment," Johnson said. "It seems like an area where intergovernmental cooperation would be able to provide a win-win. It's too bad the federal government doesn't see it that way."
Daugaard's offer to the National Park Service would have kept most of the memorial's functions open.
Under the governor's offer, state law enforcement officers would have provided security, which Johnson said would be the primary expense for the state. Parking, concessions and the gift shop, which are run by third parties, would remain open. The visitor center would be closed.
Lighting and some other expenses would be paid for by private donations.
Johnson said the cost to the state would have been minimal.
"Our plan would minimize most of the costs because we would use existing state law enforcement, use private funds to light the memorial at night and would use existing third party relationships to run most other amenities at the memorial," he said. "In the short term, we're confident that the financial impact would be very modest on the expense side."
Johnson said the economic impact of closing the tourist attraction would far outweigh the cost to the state of keeping the memorial open.
Daugaard's offer was prompted in part by the National Park Service's request for the state to close down S.D. Highway 224, which runs in front of the monument.
The governor's offer to keep Mount Rushmore open also included a rejection of that request.
"I understand that because of the possible federal government shutdown, you will likely not be able to keep Mount Rushmore open to the public and would prefer to limit access to that area," Daugaard wrote in his letter to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. "I appreciate your request and your interest in the highway, but I must respectfully decline."
Johnson said, "Citizens should still be able to enjoy and appreciate Mount Rushmore, even if it's still not open for business."
Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or email@example.com