Park Service denies request for July 4 fireworks at Mount Rushmore

“Potential risks to the park itself and to the health and safety of employees and visitors associated with the fireworks demonstration continue to be a concern and are still being evaluated as a result of the 2020 event,” said the National Park Service.

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

The National Park Service has denied a request from the State of South Dakota to hold a July 4 fireworks display at Mount Rushmore this year.

Last year under pressure from South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and former President Trump, fireworks were shot from the heads of the four presidents on the sculpture for the first time since 2009. In the interim they had been banned for having started 27 fires, left carcinogens in the water, and the trash dropped by the exploding shells onto the Monument and the forest can never be completely picked up. Fireworks were exploded over the sculpture and the Ponderosa pine forest 11 times between 1998 and 2009.

NPS Regional Director Herbert Frost wrote in a letter to the head of the state’s tourism department, first reported by The Hill Friday, that the NPS is “unable to grant a request to have fireworks at the Memorial.”

“Potential risks to the park itself and to the health and safety of employees and visitors associated with the fireworks demonstration continue to be a concern and are still being evaluated as a result of the 2020 event,” Frost wrote. “In addition, the park’s many tribal partners expressly oppose fireworks at the Memorial.”

“These factors, compiled with the COVID-19 pandemic, do not allow a safe and responsible fireworks display to be held at this site,” he added.

Frost noted that although progress is being made in fighting the pandemic, the situation is still “dynamic” and said it is “only prudent to make plans based on the best available science and public health guidance available today.”

In a joint statement, three members of Congress, Representative Dusty Johnson, Senator John Thune, and Senator Mike Rounds said,

Let’s be clear, this decision is political, not evidence-based. President Biden just said himself that Americans can safely gather by July 4 – what’s changed in a day? Last year millions watched the celebration in awe, and it’s a shame the administration is denying Americans that opportunity this year.

On March 11 in his address to the nation President Biden said,

Because here’s the point, if we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day. That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together.

According to Johns Hopkins University, of all the U.S. states, as of March 14, 2021 South Dakota has the third-highest number of positive COVID-19 cases per capita, and the sixth-lowest rate of testing per capita. The state has never implemented a mask mandate.

From Forbes, March 13, 2021:

Four days before the fireworks celebration in 2020, a local wildfire update reported that multiple fires had affected nearly 16,000 acres in the Black Hills, near Mount Rushmore. But wildfire experts’ objections to the 2020 celebration went unheeded.

“Burning debris, the burning embers and unexploded shells fall into a ponderosa pine forest and ponderosa pine is extremely flammable,” Bill Gabbert, former fire management officer for Mount Rushmore, told the Argus Leader last year. “Shooting fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest, or any flammable vegetation, is ill advised and should not be done. Period.”

In a break from what had been the standard practice for decades, when the Mine Draw Fire broke out six miles from Mount Rushmore just days before the fireworks were exploded in 2020, Governor Kristi Noem’s office took control of all official information about the fire, shutting down the fire professionals who had always provided information to the public and the media as part of their regular jobs.

Mine Draw Fire
Mine Draw Fire, June 24, 2020. Photo by Custer State Park.

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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.

12 thoughts on “Park Service denies request for July 4 fireworks at Mount Rushmore”

  1. Some of us are old enough (ancient enough??) to remember when their was a nightly “Fire Fall” in summers at Yosemite NP.

    1. I remember that. And after the “fire fall” display, everybody would head over to the dump and they would turn the spotlights on so we could all watch the bears.

  2. I am glad to see that fire works will not be on the agenda this year, fireworks over vegetation in the middle of fire season does not make any kind of logical sense for a great many reasons, I could go on a rant here but I will not. I am sure the Area FMO is well pleased with the decision, they can now focus on things that are important. I am as patriotic as the come but come on. I would venture that most folks are not aware of all the underlying issues associated with an event such as this, if they were made aware then just maybe they would have a changed opinion, just maybe…….

  3. Bert Frost edged kinda close to the “correct” answer. Would rather they just say that shooting fireworks over the forest in the NHS is simply not appropriate.

    1. Where was the science last year, Frank? It was ALL political. A dog and pony show where the risks FAR outweighed the benefits.

      Thank you, Park Service, for standing up for our environment, our wildlife, our homes, our lives, and livelihood.

      1. Yes it was. Unfortunately NPS appeared to have caved under pressure last year. The EIS was a pile of ashes too. The science is still the same. Any fireworks there should be permanently banned.

        1. I don’t think it was the NPS caving, more like they got steamrolled. The former administration was going to have their fireworks regardless. Why commit career suicide if you know it won’t make a damn bit of difference? I agree with your other points.


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