Christians will praise the Lord — and give thanks for elevators and bathrooms — at the Easter sunrise service Sunday in the Mount Rushmore National Memorial amphitheater.
Organizers of the 68th annual service were told on Wednesday by Superintendent Cheryl Schreier that budget concerns over federal sequestration would mean that the memorial's visitor center, along with the elevator and bathrooms inside it, would not be open for the 7 a.m. service that typically draws 1,500 to 2,000 people.
In the wake of the federal budget impasse, the memorial has eliminated unnecessary overtime costs, which apparently included the two employees who would normally be required to staff the visitor center for two hours before its usual 8 a.m. opening.
"Yes, we are trying to be as conservative as we can with our finances," park public information officer Maureen McGee-Ballinger said Wednesday.
On Thursday, however, memorial officials found a compromise solution that allows limited access to the elevator and bathrooms without opening the entire visitor center. A portable gate inside the Washington entrance of the visitor center will be used to limit center access while making bathrooms and an elevator to the lower-level amphitheater available.
"They will be able to access the elevator from inside. A gate will prevent them from going anywhere except the bathrooms," McGee-Ballinger said. "We were trying to get them access without having to pay overtime."
In pre-sequestration years, park staff came in at 5 a.m. to open parts of the visitor center for a 6 a.m. choir rehearsal on Easter morning.
Pastor Chuck Landon of the Keystone United Congregational Church, a longtime organizer of the Easter event, was pleased that Schreier's decision was revisited and a compromise reached. He worried that disabled and elderly people who attend the service may not be able to climb the steps from the viewing platform to the amphitheater.
"We got half a loaf, and that's all we need," he said Thursday. "I'm very pleased."
Previously, the only restrooms open at 6 a.m. would have been those located at the front of the memorial, a long walk from the amphitheater. McGee-Ballinger noted that restrooms inside Carver's Cafe also will open at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday.
Some memorial staffers had volunteered to open the visitor center without pay at 6 a.m.
"The superintendent decided that we couldn't use volunteers from the staff who offered," Landon said. McGee-Ballinger said it was against policy to allow volunteers to do that.
Hills Parish, which consists of two UCC churches in Keystone and Hermosa, applied for and received its annual special-use permit for the sunrise service. Those that require overtime staffing must request it on their application and agree to pay for it, something Hills Parish was not willing to do, McGee-Ballinger said.