Mount Rushmore National Memorial reopened Monday, thanks to Gov. Dennis Daugaard and a group of private donors who are paying to keep the memorial open during the partial shutdown of the federal government.
When the National Park Service closed the memorial to visitors on Oct. 1, Daugaard offered to use state funding to keep it open. The park service refused the offer.
Last week, the White House agreed to let states keep national parks open using state funds. Daugaard said the state would pay $15,200 per day to keep Mount Rushmore open to visitors. The funds will come from various private donors who have pledged to “buy a day” of operating the memorial.
Paying $15,200 a day to open Mount Rushmore is a bargain. A 2011 NPS report found that national parks in South Dakota receive more than 3.8 million visitors a year who spend $165 million in nearby communities and support 2,651 jobs. That’s more than $450,000 a day to the state and Black Hills economy -- $15,200 is cheap by comparison.
We applaud the administration for its change in policy that saw a heavy-handed approach to the shutdown. National parks and memorials, even those that normally are not gated, were barricaded to the public.
Mount Rushmore had even put up orange traffic cones to prevent tour buses and other visitors from using pullouts on Highway 244 to see the presidential faces. Gov. Daugaard protested the move, and the cones were removed. A park service official said the cones were put up because the agency didn’t have enough staff to monitor the pullouts, and that they were being removed because of safety concerns.
We are skeptical of the park service’s motives. In 2011, during another budget crisis, the National Park Service wrote to Gov. Daugaard, requesting South Dakota Highway Patrol roadblocks at both ends of state Highway 244 to prevent anyone from driving past the memorial and seeing Mount Rushmore from the highway. Daugaard responded by offering instead to use state resources to keep Mount Rushmore open.
Past experience tells us that the park service is more interested in public inconvenience during a shutdown than public safety.
Let’s get something straight: Mount Rushmore is owned by the taxpayers and the public, not the National Park Service, which needs to be reminded who serves whom.
We applaud Gov. Daugaard, the private donors and, yes, the National Park Service for cooperating to reopen Mount Rushmore to the public.