There won’t be a repeat of July 4th fireworks at Mount Rushmore this year.
Yesterday the National Park Service (NPS) rejected a request from South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem to display fireworks over Mt. Rushmore on Independence Day 2021, as first reported in The Hill.
Last year, Noem brought July 4th fireworks to Rushmore for the first time since 2009. The celebration took place the day before Independence Day to coincide with a visit from President Donald Trump, who gave a nationalistic speech to a maskless crowd of about 7,500. To some observers, it smacked of a campaign-style event during an election year, with a number of pop-up shops in nearby towns selling Trump merchandise.
Leading up to the event, Noem proudly touted that ticketed guests would not be required to wear masks or socially distance despite a spike in coronavirus cases in South Dakota at the time. Her anti-mask stance throughout the pandemic earned her the nickname of “Covid Kristi.”
A year later, the National Park Service is not having it.
“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,” according to a letter written by Herbert Frost, regional director of the NPS. “In addition, the park’s many tribal partners expressly oppose fireworks at the Memorial.”
In the years between 2009 and 2020, fireworks displays were banned at Mount Rushmore due to wildfire risks. 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.”
Nevertheless, this year, “Governor Noem is going to do everything in her ability to ensure that we can celebrate America’s birthday with fireworks at Mount Rushmore,” said Ian Fury, a spokesperson for the governor.
In a joint statement, a trio of South Dakota members of Congress — Representative Dusty Johnson, Senator John Thune and Senator Mike Rounds — criticized the National Park Service’s decision. “Let’s be clear, this decision is political, not evidence-based,” they said. “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.”
Noem’s fellow South Dakota Republicans might be right about one thing: her request for Mount Rushmore fireworks is very likely all about politics — and optics.
Last weekend, Noem attended a fundraiser for her 2022 gubernatorial run 2,000 miles from home, at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago Resort in Florida. The event was hosted by Donald Trump, Jr., and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle.
“But the event could also pay dividends down the road,” pointed out Fox News. “Noem, who’s a major supporter of the former president, is believed to have national aspirations and pundits consider her a potential 2024 GOP White House hopeful if the former president decides against running.”