Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore fireworks canceled

January 18, 2010, 8:08 am

Seth A. McConnell Pyrotechnics light the skies over Mt. Rushmore Thursday night during Sparkling Thunder the 11th annual fireworks display at Mt. Rushmore National Monument. (Journal file photo)

The National Park Service has canceled the Independence Day fireworks display at Mount Rushmore National Memorial this year because of growing fire danger in a forest decimated by pine beetles.

Navnit Singh, chief of interpretation and education at the memorial, said Wednesday that the annual celebration of the Fourth of July holiday will go on at the popular memorial. But the events will not include a fireworks display on the evening of July 3.

"We spoke with the governor today, and all the congressional delegates are on board," Singh said. "This is approved at the highest levels of the National Park Service. The risk is unacceptable, given the current condition of the national forest in and around Mount Rushmore."

Pine beetles have killed most of the trees in the Black Elk Wilderness, which butts up against Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The memorial contains about 1,200 acres of forest.

Foresters say dead and dying trees pose a much greater risk of wildfire.

"The condition of the forest is such that, unlike any other year before, there is a greater risk of a wildfire growing into a catastrophic fire, because there's more dead forest close to the park than any other previous year," Singh said.

He said the cancellation doesn't mean there won't be fireworks in 2011.

"We'll assess the risk every year."

The fireworks display has been a part of the Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore since 1999. It was held then to commemorate new facilities at the memorial and has been maintained almost every year since, said Paul Hammett, safety and occupational health director at Mount Rushmore.

The fireworks show was canceled in 2002 because of dangerously dry forest conditions that caused wildfires in the Black Hills, Hammett said. A laser show presented in place of the fireworks was not popular with the public.

Last year, the show was disappointing because clouds and fog rolled in and obscured the fireworks.

Even without the fireworks, the memorial is expected to be packed, as it is every year at the memorial, he said.

"Last year, the very next day, July 4, before the park gates opened, traffic was backed up all the way down to Keystone," Singh said. "So the people came, and we had capacity crowds without lifting a finger, basically. There's no reason to think that anything is going to be collapsing because of this. People will come."

Singh said Park Service employees and others who work on the Fourth of July celebration schedule would be "challenged to find a spectacular alternative to the fireworks." He said Rushmore staff has just begun planning for the celebration.

"We normally have a full day of programs scattered throughout the park and the amphitheater."

With fireworks canceled, the staff will have more flexibility in planning and scheduling celebration activities, Singh said. "Ideally, my thought would be to have a series of special programs and a much more robust evening program."

Singh said the area has a plentiful supply of entertainers, patriotic programs and historical re-enactors.

"We're going to look at all of those options."