National Park Service decides to explode fireworks over the Mount Rushmore sculpture

The Environmental Assessment released today led to a finding of “no significant impact” from the fireworks that were announced by President Trump May 7, 2019

Mount Rushmore
The sculpture at Mount Rushmore is located at the icon in this satellite photo.

In a result that may not surprise those who have followed the issue of fireworks over Mount Rushmore, the National Park Service (NPS) announced today the agency will again allow fireworks to be exploded over the sculpture for July 4.

During the 30-day period that ended March 30, 2020 during which the public was allowed to express their opinion about about the proposal in the Environmental Assessment, 700 comments were submitted. The NPS said, “all comments were reviewed, and substantive comments were responded to by subject matter experts.”

My main concerns with restoring fireworks which had been used over the Memorial 11 times between 1998 and 2009 revolved around three primary issues:

1. Wildfires
During those 11 events 20 documented wildfires were ignited by the fireworks in the middle of the wildfire season.

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.

3. Garbage
The trash dropped by the exploding shells onto the Monument and the forest can never be completely picked up. Left on the ground 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.

Mount Rushmore Fireworks garbage
Several months after the fireworks in 2007 Paul Horsted photographed garbage near the Mount Rushmore sculpture that was created by the exploding shells.

On at least two occasions President Trump said fireworks were going to be restored at Mount Rushmore long before the Environmental Assessment process was finished, on May 7, 2019 and December 18, 2019. This could lead a cynical person to think it was a foregone conclusion and the Environmental Assessment was a sham.

In a statement from the NPS released today, the Secretary of the Interior and the Governor of South Dakota both praised the fireworks:

“President Trump and I believe that our nation’s founding should be celebrated with the same Pomp and Parade that John Adams described in 1776, and having a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore once again will be an incredible spectacle for the American people to enjoy,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

“There is no better place to celebrate America’s birthday than Mount Rushmore,” said South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. “The majestic figures of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln provide a terrific backdrop for the fireworks, and we appreciate all the work President Trump and his team at the Department of the Interior have done to make this celebration possible again for the country.”

Prior to the event, the NPS said, they will work with partner agencies, including the state of South Dakota, local communities, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, and the fireworks contractor and staff, to develop the following:

  • A plan to address event traffic control, visitor management, and emergency response.
  • A plan for event staging and demobilization activities.
  • A wildland fire response plan.
  • A Unified Command incident management team and a Go/No-Go checklist.

Similar events could be permitted in future years if conditions remain the same and impacts are as described in the EA, according to the NPS.

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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.

14 thoughts on “National Park Service decides to explode fireworks over the Mount Rushmore sculpture”

  1. I just read that the governor of South Dakota said there is no better place to celebrate the Fourth of July than Mount Rushmore. As a former NPS ranger, long ago I worked at Wind Cave National Park, just down the road a bit from Mount Rushmore, and a few years earlier in 1976 during the U.S. Bicentennial, at Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, overlooking the entire Washington D.C. Mall. The SD governor needs to get out more. Nothing compares with being on the National Mall, or at the top of the Arlington House lawn overlooking the Kennedys’ graves and all of D.C. and seeing the celebrations and fireworks in our nation’s Capital. I have been appalled by this stunt at Mount Rushmore since it was announced. I hope we get an accurate accounting of what this Trump campaign even ends up costing taxpayers. My thoughts are with all NPS Rangers and other staff today.

  2. Well I am late but how about a drone/ laser light show instead? Pretty spectacular but mitigates some of the impacts. Like at the Olympics or superbowl.

  3. I just read through the Record of Decision on No Signigicant Impact (or whatever the actual title is) on the EA and it basically said — We want to do this and we don’t really care what you think because the President told us to do it.

    They cited the decline in perchlorate some 10 years after the last fireworks event as justification that if we ignore it long enough it won’t be a problem.

    The impacts on wildlife can be summarized as: it’s only 15-30 minutes of light and noise, deal with it.

    They completly ignored the litter issue because they didn’t think litter was important and the fire issue they dealt with by saying the forest burns there anyway so it’ll be like a lightning start — no biggie.

    Sadly, this EA is the pro forma response I expected from the political hacks at the top of the federal agencies dictating downward that everyone must toe the Trumpian line.

    I’m only surprised they didn’t require the Monument carve the Trump brand into the face of it and pay him for it.

    I realize those are political comments and they can be edited out if they violate the policy here but the truth is that the entire EA was a political document — the science clearly doesn’t support resuming fireworks in any natural setting.

  4. This is the same idiocy that allows ” controlled ” burns during the fire season. Who really thinks this stuff up? Are they actually sanctioned to do this crap?

    1. Probably a conversation for another day. The truth is some of the best fire effects for certain ecosystems can occur during burn bans and high fire danger days.

      Reasonable people can disagree about whether the risk is worth the reward to conduct a prescribed fire under borderline conditions. This is a different category of bad idea, wherein there is no reward involved for the assumption of risk.

  5. Really disappointed to hear this news. I personally took the time to review the environmental assessment and wrote in the firm negation to this plan. In reading the EA, I’m amazed that anyone was supportive of this. It basically boiled down to “increased wildfire risk, ecosystem damage, water degradation, dispersion of garbage, and noise pollution…. or you can watch pretty lights go BOOM!” Nearly every section of the EA reported degradation in one form or another! Knowing that Bernhardt (yeah, the same Bernhardt that was a previous oil lobbyist and carries around a notecard to remind him of his extensive conflicts of interest) is a political appointee of Trump and this firework show is a presidential directive, it’s hard to feel like this decision is being made based on sound science alone. I seriously wonder if the folks making this decision read the same EA that I did.

  6. @doi @nps @sdgov.

    Brilliant plan……NOT said everyone and everybody

    Jam the area with covids and maybe the bright lights from the fireworks and resulting fires will cure it…

    F’ing unreal…..


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