Rushmore blockage stirs anger in S.D.
Barring visitors from view an unexpected effect of shutdown
Oct. 5, 2013
Blocking access to trails and programs at South Dakota’s most popular attraction was one thing, but state officials didn’t expect Congress’ budget stalemate to shut down a view of Mount Rushmore.
The National Park Service placed cones along highway viewing areas outside Mount Rushmore this week, barring visitors from pulling over and taking pictures of the famed monument.
The cones first went up Oct. 1, said Dusty Johnson, Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s chief of staff. The state asked that they be taken down, and federal officials did so with some of them. The state was told the cones were a safety precaution to help channel cars into viewing areas rather than to bar their entrance.
“I think reasonable people can disagree about that,” Johnson said.
The cones were down again Friday as a blizzard hit the Black Hills and plows needed access to the roads, Johnson said. He said the state would be monitoring to see whether the cones are put back along viewing areas.
“Once the snow’s off the ground, we’re going to be keeping an eye on how the cones go up,” Johnson said.
The Buffalo News reported that a tour group of dozens of people from western New York was unable to take pictures of the monument because highway viewing areas were coned off.
“It’s all closed up,” the newspaper quoted North Collins, N.Y., resident Hilde Werneth as saying. “They won’t even let you stop and take a picture. You can only drive by.”
Jim Hagen, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism, said the situation is hurting people from out-of-state and international visitors who are in South Dakota to visit the monument.
“They won’t even let you pull off on the side of the road,” Hagen said. “I just don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish.”
A spokeswoman for the National Park Service in Omaha confirmed that the monument is closed, but she said she didn’t have details about cones. A message left at Mount Rushmore was not returned.
The closure is part of a budget showdown between House Republicans who want to defund the Affordable Care Act and Democrats who want to preserve funding. Republicans have passed spending bills that would open the parks and restore services to other areas of the federal government, but Democrats say the Republicans should pass a spending that bill that funds the Affordable Care Act, too.
Perry Plumart, a spokesman for Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, said closing Mount Rushmore hurts visitors, businesses and furloughed park rangers.
“The best way to restore access to all national parks, including Mount Rushmore, is for Speaker Boehner and the House to pass a clean continuing resolution and end the government shutdown,” Plumart said.
But Republicans said the administration is unnecessarily making the shutdown more painful than needed — including coning off viewing areas near Mount Rushmore.
“It disgusts me that taxpayer resources were used on this act of stupidity,” Rep. Kristi Noem said. “This is federal government arrogance at its worst.”
Sen. John Thune said he had seen photos of the coned-off viewing areas, and he said it’s “outrageous” if federal officials are barring people from pulling over and taking pictures from the highway.
“It seems to me, on a lot of levels — and we saw this out here with the World War II Memorial — the administration wants to make this as painful as possible,” Thune said, referring to barricades around the memorial.
Thune said the Senate could easily take up spending bills to fund parks and other specific items rather than an overall spending bill, but he said Democrats have refused. “They, obviously, prefer to have the issue and not the solution,” he said.
Daugaard offered to keep Mount Rushmore open using state resources, Dusty Johnson noted. The National Park Service declined.
“I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation,” he said.