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Mount Rushmore National Memorial is seen through clearing fog at sunrise from Iron Mountain road in the Black Hills in October. The concessionaire at the memorial is seeking to bring a more environmentally friendly focus to the site.

Craig Hudson, Journal staff

The iconic faces are about the only thing not undergoing a major makeover this winter at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

The facilities are being remodeled and going greener in an environmental sense. Changes underway include new solar panels, electric-car charging stations, bike lockers and a greenhouse to grow food for the restaurant, among other things.

It is part of an initiative by Xanterra Parks and Resorts that aims to produce 50 percent of its own power and sell a majority of sustainable, locally sourced products and food in the gift shop and restaurant, said Kevin Crosby, sustainability manager for Xanterra Parks and Resorts.

The company just took over the contract with the National Park Service for the parking facilities in early October. The 10-year contract also includes the operation of the restaurant facilities and gift shop.

Crosby said the plan for the near future is to have photovoltaic solar panels that will create a carport-type cover on the top of the current parking facility.

"They are solar panels, but designed so they would be awnings for vehicles," he said.

The parking area now costs $10 for a parking pass, a dollar less than in the past. Military personnel are now allowed to park for free and senior citizens 62 and older receive a 50 percent discount. Passes are good for a year from the date purchased.

Bike lockers will also be installed along with three electric-car charging stations.

“Personally, I think it’s crazy that we don’t already have them (car charging stations),” Crosby said, adding that the company will re-evaluate the number of stations in the future if it starts seeing an increase in the number of electric cars coming in.

Among other green projects, a major renovation of the restaurant area will include a greenhouse on the roof to grow food to be used in the restaurant throughout the year, Crosby said. Xanterra currently runs a garden in Keystone just outside the memorial.

And what workers can't grow they are sourcing locally as much as possible. Crosby said they work with local food producers including Black Hills Works, which contributes hydroponically grown lettuce. They are also establishing a relationship with Black Hills Food Hub, which helps coordinate purchase and delivery of food from local farmers to cafeterias in the area.

"The food and on the gift shop side, we're doing as much as we can to purchase local products, made in the USA, and sustainable products," Crosby said. "That’s an ongoing initiative. We’re already doing quite a bit, and we’re tracking it."

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He said the offerings at the memorial are now about 20 percent sustainable, though the firm is trying to improve upon that. For food and beverage service, the goal is 70 percent sustainable cuisine, meaning not just local products but organic and foods that are not genetically modified. The buffalo meat they already have on the menu falls into that category and is their top-seller.

"We sell a ton of bison, so that's all local and free of antibiotics," Crosby said.

The remodel of the restaurant will also improve customer flow, make it easier for visitors to know where to order and improve the overall experience.

“On the restaurant side, we’re moving things around to make it a more inviting space, open it up more, make it so people know where to order, how to order and just get them through easier and happier,” Crosby said.

The gift shop will also be renovated to improve the experience for visitors, he said. One of the most notable changes will be moving the checkout registers from their current space, which sits in a circle in the middle of the shop, to the edge of the store where an improved line for customers will make the process more streamlined, Crosby said.

The renovations will be taking place through the slower, winter season at the memorial, but all facilities will remain open through the winter.

Contact Jennifer Naylor Gesick at 394-8421 or jennifer.naylorgesick@rapidcityjournal.com.

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