S. Dakota offers resources to keep Rushmore open

AP News
Posted: Apr 08, 2011 8:31 PM
S. Dakota offers resources to keep Rushmore open

South Dakota's governor proposed using state resources Friday to help keep Mount Rushmore National Memorial open in the event of a federal government shutdown.

The National Park Service has planned to close the memorial and furlough employees other than a skeleton crew to provide security and maintenance if lawmakers in Washington failed to reach agreement by midnight Friday.

But in a letter sent Friday to the park service's director, Gov. Dennis Daugaard outlined a plan to keep open the famous monument featuring the 60-foot granite carvings of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

"Mount Rushmore is our country's 'Shrine to Democracy,' and I believe it should remain open to the public during a partial government shutdown," Daugaard wrote.

The first-term governor attached a list of options that he said could keep much of the memorial operating, including the use of state personnel for security.

He said memorial facilities that are operated by third-party concessionaires such as the parking area, gift shop and restaurant could remain open, but the visitor center would be closed. Daugaard said he would help raise private money to continue operating spotlights that illuminate the presidents' faces.

It is the tourism off-season for the state's most famous landmark, but the Black Hills memorial drew 3 million visitors last year. Rushmore spokeswoman Ace Crawford said it had about 35,000 visitors in April 2010.

In his letter to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, Daugaard also turned down a request to close a state highway that runs past the memorial, presumably to keep people away from a closed facility.

"Even if closed, Mount Rushmore is viewable from the highway, and Americans should still have that opportunity," he wrote.

Crawford couldn't say how many Rushmore employees would be furloughed in the event of a shutdown. South Dakota has three other national parks, all in the western half of the state.

"This is affecting thousands in the region and beyond just federal workers," she said.