Coming in 2020: An upgraded, enhanced Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Major construction projects at the memorial will begin the week of July 8. Construction will continue through this year and much of 2020; the estimated completion date for all projects is late 2020, according to the National Park Service.
The Grand View Terrace, Avenue of Flags, Sculptor's Studio, Information Center, Mount Rushmore Bookstores, self-guided audio tours, and Carver's Cafe and gift shop will all be open through Monday, the National Park Service said in a news release. Ranger programs will be offered daily every half hour from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Sculptor's Studio.
The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and the amphitheater are closed because of construction. However, an evening program with a ranger talk, veteran recognition, national anthem and lighting of the sculpture will begin at 9 p.m. nightly through the summer.
The construction will address several deferred maintenance projects and will improve safety and accessibility for visitors. Construction is funded by more than $8 million in federal money earmarked for deferred maintenance projects. Scull Construction Services Inc. from Rapid City will be the contractor for these projects.
Construction will begin eliminating access to the Grand View Terrace and the Avenue of Flags. Projects at the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center will include replacing the roof, replacing the heating and cooling system, new carpeting, new bathroom plumbing, new stairwells, new elevators, better accessibility and improved views of Mount Rushmore itself, according to Maureen McGee-Ballinger, public information officer.
On the Grand View Terrace and Avenue of Flags, deteriorating pavers will be replaced. The avenue itself will be straightened and widened, McGee-Ballinger said. Existing columns will be removed; all flags with their state information will return in a pattern parallel to the walkway. These changes are designed to improve visitor traffic flow, enhance accessibility and provide clearer views of the sculpture. A second phase will upgrade the plaza paver walkway system from the Avenue of Flags to the parking garage.
“It’s going to be beautiful” when all the construction is finished, McGee-Ballinger said. “There will be lots of open areas. We want our visitors to have the best experience possible and that includes making sure you have safe, clean facilities.”
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Despite ongoing construction, there’s still plenty to see and do at Mount Rushmore, McGee-Ballinger said. Park rangers can help direct visitors to areas of the memorial that are open.
Outside the Carver’s Café, the main avenue provides a great view of the Mount Rushmore, she said, adding that a must see is the newly restored Sculptor’s Studio, the historic 1939 structure that was built as a second on-site studio for sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Plaster models and tools related to the sculpting processes are on display there.
"I highly recommend going to the Sculptor’s Studio,” McGee-Ballinger said. “From there you get the view the sculptor had. You’ll see his original model. We now have the opportunity to provide in-depth history about what the carving era was like. We have rangers throughout the summer providing programs to help share that story.”
Other enhancements at Mount Rushmore were rolled out earlier this year. Through a separate construction project funded by Xanterra Travel Collection, the Thomas Jefferson Sun Canopy was unveiled this spring. The canopy is South Dakota’s second-largest solar installation. It provides about 50 percent of the energy needs for the restaurant at the memorial, McGee-Ballinger said.
The sun canopy cost about $1 million and was part of an investment by Xanterra, the global adventure travel company that operates the restaurant and other park facilities at Mount Rushmore. Xanterra also invested more than $1 million for energy-efficient lighting in Mount Rushmore’s restaurant, gift shop and throughout the park.
The sun canopy is one facet of the parking structure’s upgrades that debuted in time for this summer’s visitors. Automated pay stations at the gates and pay-on-foot stations throughout the park have been installed. There’s a free tire inflation station to help visitors improve their vehicles’ fuel economy, and for cyclists there are bicycle lockers. Six charging stations for electric cars — three specifically for Teslas — are new as well. Guests are using and liking the amenities, McGee-Ballinger said.
“We’re getting a really positive response. Visitors are excited to see we’re getting the sustainability aspect (in the park),” McGee-Ballinger said.