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Mount Rushmore closes as government shutdown shakes South Dakota

Mount Rushmore closes as government shutdown shakes South Dakota

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South Dakota's most iconic monument closed its entrance to tourists this morning following a government shutdown that has crippled public services across the nation.

In addition to Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Monument and Jewel Cave have also been shuttered, certain hunting areas in South Dakota are closed, 427 civilian employees have been furloughed at Ellsworth Air Force Base, and 549 full-time employees of the South Dakota National Guard have been laid off.

In total, 800,000 federal employees across the country will be furloughed and more than a million expected to work without pay. The shutdown was forced by the Republican-controlled House after the Senate, controlled by Democrats, wouldn't make changes to President Obama's 2010 health care law.

Maureen McGee-Ballinger, spokeswoman for Mount Rushmore, said Monday that the National Park Service expected 36 of the monument's 60 employees would be furloughed from Tuesday.

"We will still need security for the sculpture so those employees would still be here," McGee-Ballinger said, adding that maintenance crews would also continue upkeep.

Although summer is the peak season for the park, she said it can still attract 5,000 to 7,000 people on a nice Fall day.

For tourists like Deb Anderson, 61, an escrow closing assistant in Bismarck, N.D., Mount Rushmore's closure was a surprising and disappointing sight on Tuesday after a six hour drive.

"I'm very very mad at our government," she said. "There's other things that they can do and they have to quit 'Republicans against Democrats'".

A trail of about 200 cars crawled along the road outside the sculpture in the morning. National Park Service employees blocked off pull-off areas, leaving visitors to vie for scarce space to stop and gaze at the granite monument.

It's unclear when Mount Rushmore and the rest of the government will begin to operate normally again.

The shutdown came after House Republicans demanded on Monday that the Senate, controlled by Democrats, defund or delay parts of President Obama's 2010 health care overhaul in exchange for passage of a bill that would continue government spending. Obama and congressional Democrats have remained steadfast in their refusal to give in to Republican demands.

In an attempt to keep Mount Rushmore open, Governor Dennis Daugaard said Monday that he had sent a letter to the National Park Service with a plan to keep the monument open in the event of a shutdown.

The governor suggested that private donations would pay for the lighting of the memorial and state personnel would provide security. The visitor center wouldn't be open, but the concessions and gift shop would be.

McGee-Dallinger said Monday that she hasn't seen the letter, but that the agency couldn't hand control of the park to the state.

"It's not open for state or private entities to operate since it is a federal entity," she said. "If there is a federal lapse in funding, we would be closed."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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