Mount Rushmore names acting superintendent

By Gray Hughes and Leslie Silverman

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National Park Service (NPS) acting midwest regional director Patricia Trap has announced the acting superintendent for Mount Rushmore National Memorial,  Denice Swanke.

Swanke, current deputy superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve, will assume the role June 2.

“I am looking forward to spending time in the Black Hills and working with the staff, partners and neighbors of Mount Rushmore,” Swanke said of the opportunity in a release.

Swanke began her federal career in 1990 at Zion National Park.

In addition to serving as superintendent of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana, she has held assignments in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and as a NPS Legislative Affairs Specialist in Washington, D.C.

Additionally, Swanke worked for the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forst Service.

She holds a physical science degree from Western Oregon University and a masters of public administration degree from the University of Montana.

Swanke will temporarily fill the position held by Cheryl Schreier, current Mount Rushmore National Memorial superintendent, who will retire May 31 with 40 years of service in the government.

“We have begun the process of recruiting for a permanent superintendent,” Trap said in a release. “Denice’s collaborative and inclusive approach to land management, her support of park staff and her interest in having open dialog with partners, agencies and communities, will be a great asset during this transition of park leadership.”

As of late, Mount Rushmore National Memorial has unveiled a revamped parking area complete with a new solar array to help power the park.

The solar array, which was nearly $1 million, was funded by Xanterra Travel Collection, which funds the parking facility and was unveiled on April 22.

Other improvements include better signage, electric vehicle chargers and air pumps.

Fireworks may return

The stone faces at Mount Rushmore National Memorial might once again be lit by fireworks for the Fourth of July, that according to a May 7 press release put out by the United States Department of the Interior.

The release states that, “the State of South Dakota and the Department of the Interior are committed to an agreement to exercise their full authorities under state and federal law to work to return fireworks to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in a safe and responsible manner on July 3, July 4, or July 5, beginning in the year 2020.”

Locally, officials are already making plans to handle the potential influx of visitors to the region.

“Preliminary plans for increased tourism and visitors will begin soon,“ said Keystone Town Board president Rick Bradfras. “Tourists, business owners and locals have been hungry for another spectacular Fourth of July show. And we might just expect to see a record breaking number of visitors preceding and succeeding the fourth.”

The return of the display, however, is not a guarantee, said Maureen McGee-Ballinger, chief of interpretation and education at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

“This is the first step in a process,” McGee-Ballinger said. “The National Park Service is committed to working with the state and other land management agencies, exercising our full authorities under state and federal law, to explore and develop safe and responsible options in regard to the proposal.”

The fireworks show at the monument was halted in 2009 due to growing concerns about fire risk after a pine beetle infestation left trees more vulnerable.

However, in the past decade forest regrowth and advances in pyrotechnics have changed officials’ views on the safety of the display.

The most recent data collected suggest that Mount Rushmore received approximately 2.4 million visitors in 2017, spending an estimated $139 million in the region. The benefits to bringing the display back to the monuments puts the tourist dependent region on an international center stage.

“When the fireworks were previously held at Mount Rushmore, the show was beamed around the globe via satellite. The entire world was able to view a celebration of our nation’s freedoms from the majestic memorial and the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. There is no more fitting place in all the USA to celebrate our democracy than from Mount Rushmore,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem stated in a release.

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