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President Trump Brings Big Fireworks Displays Back To Mount Rushmore


To South Dakota and Mount Rushmore now. That is where President Trump will celebrate Independence Day this evening. He, along with 7,500 other people, will be treated to a $350,000 fireworks display that is courtesy of South Dakota taxpayers. Trump takes credit for reviving the big displays after environmental concerns stopped them in 2009. South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Seth Tupper reports on why the fireworks were banned and how the president brought them back.


SETH TUPPER, BYLINE: Big, expensive fireworks shows like this one erupted in color over the carved heads of Mount Rushmore every July for about a decade. But the National Park Service put a stop to it after 2009 because of pollution and the wildfire risk to the surrounding Black Hills National Forest. In January, President Trump said those aren't good reasons to cancel a fireworks display.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I said, what can burn? It's stone. You know, it's stone. So nobody knew why. They just said environmental reasons, so I called up our people. And within about 15 minutes we got it approved, and you're going to have your first big fireworks display at Mount Rushmore. And I'll try and get out there if I can - OK?


TRUMP: Right.

CHERYL SCHREIER: I would say that those comments are not informed comments and that the information is out there what the impacts were.

TUPPER: Cheryl Schreier was superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial from 2010 until last year. When the big displays started in 1998, dozens of firefighters had to be stationed in the forests nearby to put out fires started by falling embers. Debris from the exploded fireworks shells still litters the forest. In 2016, a chemical linked to fireworks called perchlorate was found in drinking water wells at Mount Rushmore. Levels are not regulated in South Dakota or nationally, but they remain higher than standards set by Massachusetts and California. Schreier said it all added up to a consensus when she was in charge.

SCHREIER: Fireworks were not going to be a part of Mount Rushmore any further.

TUPPER: But shortly after taking office in 2018, Republican Governor Kristi Noem says she asked President Trump to bring the fireworks back. Footage of them aired all over the world boosting South Dakota's tourism industry.


KRISTI NOEM: And he ever since then has kind of, I don't know, taken the bull by the horns, you know, been passionate about it.

TUPPER: A Park Service environmental review concluded in April found the fireworks will not have a significant impact on the environment. Seven thousand, five hundred people won tickets to the event in an online lottery. Signs encouraging social distancing will be posted, and masks will be made available. But Noem says nothing will be required.


NOEM: We did have a plan originally of social distancing. We do not anticipate doing any social distancing activities during the celebration.

TUPPER: Protesters pushing for the removal of statues say Mount Rushmore honors two slave owners, Washington and Jefferson. Calls to deface the memorial are circulating on the Internet. And Native American groups plan to protest. They say the mountain carving and the fireworks desecrate land they lost to broken treaties. Weather could add a final wrinkle. Authorities have a set of go, no go criteria that could cancel the show if fire conditions are too dangerous. For NPR News, I'm Seth Tupper in Rapid City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Seth Tupper has been named SDPB’s new Business and Economic Development Reporter. Tupper is based at SDPB’s Black Hills Studio in Rapid City.