15 days left to comment on fireworks at Mount Rushmore

We are halfway through a 30-day period during which comments on a proposal to shoot fireworks over the faces of the four Presidents are being accepted

Mount Rushmore Fireworks garbage
Two months after the fireworks in 2007 while professional photographer Paul Horsted was working on a project at the Mount Rushmore sculpture he found and photographed garbage that was left by fireworks.

The National Park Service will be accepting comments about shooting fireworks over the Mount Rushmore National Memorial until March 30, 2020. The opportunity exists while an Environmental Assessment (EA) that was prepared to evaluate the effects of the fireworks is in the public comment period.

After March 30 the NPS will make a decision about whether to proceed with the fireworks over the faces of four Presidents.

At this link you can comment on the proposal and also download the EA. Express your opinion. (A backup copy of the EA can be found here.)


Our opinion-

I was the Fire Management Officer for Mount Rushmore and six other parks during the first four years that fireworks were used on Independence Day at the Memorial, therefore I have some background knowledge about the issue. There are three reasons why I am against shooting fireworks in the Memorial.

Mount Rushmore Fireworks wildfires fires fire
Paul Horsted shot this photo during the 1998 fireworks at Mount Rushmore that shows either fires started below the sculpture or fireworks shells that landed and were burning.

1. Wildfires
Fireworks were used at Mount Rushmore on July 3 or 4 from 1998 to 2009 except in 2002 when it was canceled due to the danger of the pyrotechnic display starting wildfires. During those 11 events 20 documented wildfires were ignited by the fireworks during the middle of the fire season. They were all suppressed by the 60 to 80 firefighters staged around the sculpture before they could grow large. The park is not just the stone carving; it has over 1,000 acres of timber within the boundary, and beyond that is the Black Hills National Forest.

Concerning the threat of adding to the 20 wildfires started in previous fireworks displays, the EA states that in a dry year a wildfire “would be more likely to result in a high-consequence fire burning outside the boundaries of the Memorial and toward the town of Keystone, South Dakota, up the northeast aspect of Black Elk Peak, or into the basin near Horsethief Lake.”

Professional photographer Paul Horsted attended one of the public meetings earlier this month that were conducted to collect comments from the public about the fireworks. He took photos of some of the exhibits prepared by the National Park Service. One of them is a map showing the locations of six fires that were ignited in 2007. You can see the rest of Paul’s photos of the meeting and the exhibits HERE.

2. Carcinogens in the water
In 2016 the U.S. Geological Survey discovered that the ground and surface water at Mount Rushmore are contaminated with perchlorate, a carcinogen which is a component of rocket fuels, fireworks, and explosives. They determined that the chemical came from the fireworks over the 12-year period during which they were used.

The EA has several paragraphs devoted to the perchlorate and states the concentrations in the water inside the Memorial are “orders of magnitude higher” than reference samples outside the Memorial. But that is an understatement at best. Order of magnitude may sound vague, but it usually means ten times higher. Unmentioned in the EA is the fact that data from the USGS report showed that a maximum perchlorate concentration of 54 micrograms per liter measured in a stream sample between 2011 and 2015 was about 270 times higher than that in samples collected from sites outside the memorial, which were 0.2 micrograms per liter. The Centers for Disease Control says high levels of perchlorate can affect the thyroid gland, which in turn can alter the function of many organs in the body. The fetus and young children can be especially susceptible.

According to the EA the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is planning to raise the health advisory for perchlorate from 15 to 56 micrograms per liter. Maybe it is just a coincidence that it would put the contaminated water at Mount Rushmore suddenly within acceptable guidelines. But a process like this is consistent with other environmental policy changes by the federal government in recent years.

3. Garbage
Another issue with exploding pyrotechnics over the Memorial is the trash that can never be completely picked up. Left on the sculpture and in the forest are unexploded shells, wadding, plastic, ash, pieces of the devices, and paper; stuff that can never be totally removed in the very steep, rocky, rugged terrain.


All articles on Wildfire Today about Mount Rushmore can be found here.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

13 thoughts on “15 days left to comment on fireworks at Mount Rushmore”

  1. We are definitely getting educated on using fireworks so much and not realizing the pollution it creates. There has to be another way we can celebrate cleanly in the future maybe emphasize on the celebration during the day with parades and coming together with seeing our military fly the planes, and show a patriotic movie or concert in the evening instead. Just an idea but if someone else has ideas I’m hoping to see more responses

    I have been to Mount Rushmore twice and am in awe of the presidents faces carved in the granite Love the history

  2. The fireworks are beautiful, until a wildfire breaks out, I don’t feel like the risk is warranted, I like the idea of a laser light show. Destroying this forest area doesn’t make much sense.

  3. I’ve only been to Mount Rushmore during the day and one time. I thought it was amazing enough.
    I began receiving wildfire today updates because my daughter lived in California and it seemed like a good way to see what was going on in almost real time.
    There is nothing like getting that phone call from your daughter while she’s driving through fire on both sides of the road saying she loves you if she doesn’t make it (Thomas Fire). I don’t wish that phone call on anyone.
    Are fireworks really needed to celebrate?
    I’m just a mom not an expert on wildfires like many of you.

  4. There’s a fourth reason too: Fireworks kill animals. The loud explosions are terrifying for wildlife and companion animals alike. Dogs and cats panic and flee, and shelters see an increase in admissions after fireworks displays. Dogs have even suffered heart attacks and died. Fireworks were also blamed for the deaths of 5,000 birds in Arkansas. The professional-grade explosives scared red-winged blackbirds and European starlings out of their nests and sent them into panicked flight. The night-blind birds crashed into houses, signs, and other obstacles, causing blunt-force trauma and death. Laser light shows have all the grandeur with none of the explosions.

  5. Any human-caused fire in any forest is an outrage. The potential fire risk for an alleged celebration is obscene. NO NO NO NO NO fireworks in any of our parks, no matter the excuse!!!!!!!! Forests and fireworks need to be mutually exclusive.

  6. Why do humans insist on destroying the beauty of this area! The forest itself is reason enough to NOT have fireworks at Mount Rushmore. The regular lights on the “faces” are enough to create awe and amazement; nothing more is needed. Why anyone would consider fireworks with all the destructive possibilities as well as the trash component, seems utterly irresponsible. I say NO to the fireworks!

  7. Yes, a laser light show… a European style son et lumiere with historical comments… anything but fireworks!
    The mere thought of fireworks gives me chills!

  8. I can’t believe it’s even being considered to have fireworks at Mount Rushmore on the 4th of July. Mount Rushmore is a National Memorial to be loved and respected by all people. The reason fireworks were not allowed is because of fire danger. Let’s enjoy the beauty of the forests and and show honor to our National Memorial. Forest fires have cost the lives of many fire personnel. Do we realize we have a Covid-19 virus affecting our Nation, and around the world. Our country is at the verge of a recession, unemployment is at a all time high and we’re thinking of spending thousands of dollars to send President Trump to watch fireworks at Mount Rushmore. This is one of his many mistakes and thousands of lies. Trump only thinks about himself, save the money and protect our forests. In our time of crisis this is the most ridiculous idea I’ve heard off plus the potential of a forest fire.

  9. How I see things, this whole clown show seems to be self centered around governor Noem Nothing. It’s a tactic to take people’s eyes off the failing of handling C-19 as a leader who wouldn’t heed counsel from public leaders, health experts & Mayor Tenhaken. She is only focused on kissing up to The President with the sole purpose of advancing her political career.

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