Mount Rushmore National Memorial is celebrating Earth Day by unveiling upgrades to make it a more environmentally friendly park.

The Thomas Jefferson Sun Canopy, considered to be the state's second-largest solar installation, will make its official debut at 2 p.m. Monday at Mount Rushmore. It cost about $1 million and is part of an investment by Xanterra Travel Collection, which operates the restaurant, gift shop and other park facilities at Mount Rushmore.

Planning and construction of the canopy took three years. It has been in operation since January and is expected to provide more than half the electricity used by the restaurant and gift shop.

“It will save us over $40,000 a year in electricity (costs),” said Kevin Crosby, the sustainability manager for Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

The sun canopy will reduce Xanterra’s greenhouse gas emissions by 24 percent, which is the equivalent of taking 30 passenger vehicles off the road each year. The canopy was designed and managed by Pivot Energy, which  develops onsite solar projects. It was built by solar power innovators SunPower Corporation and Circuitus Energy.

For Mount Rushmore’s visitors and their vehicles, the canopy offers shade and protection from sun, wind, rain and hail on the upper level of the parking structure.

The sun canopy is named for Thomas Jefferson as a symbol of independence, Crosby said. Just as Jefferson wanted independence from England, Xanterra’s commitment to reducing its environmental impact means less dependence on foreign oil companies.

“We are partners at a lot of national parks. (The environment) is important to the National Park Service so it’s important to us. Xanterra also operates in a lot of beautiful places, so it’s hard not to be committed to keeping those places beautiful and improving environmental sustainability,” Crosby said. “As a company, we’ve made a commitment to reducing environmental impacts. We’re trying to do the right thing.”

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The Earth Day unveiling will begin with a ribbon-cutting, informational talks from those involved in the project and refreshments, Crosby said. Those will be followed by a tour of the parking facility.

The sun canopy is just one facet of the parking structure’s upgrades.

New automated pay stations at the gates and pay-on-foot stations throughout the park have been installed, Crosby said. Visitors can park more quickly and by spending less time in idling cars, trucks and motorhomes, vehicle emissions will be reduced.

“We reconfigured to ease the mile-long line of cars that can occur during the summer,” he said. “You take a ticket when you come in, and you can park immediately. There are pay-on-foot stations throughout the park. You can pay as it’s convenient and then submit your validated ticket when you leave.”

Other new features include a free tire-inflation station for visitors so their vehicles can maintain better fuel economy and bicycle lockers for those who pedal their way to Mount Rushmore. By the time the monument opens for the summer, there will also be charging stations for electric vehicles that visitors can use for free, Crosby said.

Xanterra also has invested more than $1 million in lighting upgrades at Mount Rushmore’s restaurant, gift shop and throughout the park. The new lighting is energy efficient and more aesthetically pleasing, Crosby said.

All the improvements support Mount Rushmore National Memorial’s status as a climate-friendly park. This status indicates that the National Park Service, Xanterra and other park partners are carrying out a climate-action plan focused on sustainability, energy reduction, waste management, water usage and other best practices, according to a news release from Xanterra.

Xanterra is focused on the challenge of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions as part of its overall commitment to operate with a softer footprint. The company’s 2025 corporate sustainability goals include using 5 percent less energy annually and reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent between 2014 and 2025, said Andrew N. Todd, Xanterra’s president and CEO.

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