And this year, resuming the fireworks demonstration is an even greater threat to both humans and nature. Thanks to an extremely dry summer, South Dakota faces a higher than usual risk of wildfires. A former fire management officer for Mount Rushmore and numerous national parks warned that the fireworks show would be “ill-advised” given the dry conditions. The National Park Service has heeded similar warnings in previous years, canceling the fireworks in 2002 and 2010 at least in part because of high fire danger. And the park service has continued to cite concern over devastating wildfires as a reason for discontinuing the event until now.
In addition to concerns over fire, we must acknowledge the very real risk that Friday’s event could become a hot spot for coronavirus infections, particularly as there are no plans to enforce social distancing. The 7,500 people in attendance have been drawn from ticket requests from across the country, including many states seeing a marked rise in cases of coronavirus infections. This is a recipe for disaster. Ironically, though organizers won’t lower the number of tickets for the event in the name of health and safety, they will close Mount Rushmore to regular visitation for the entire day leading up to the fireworks event. (On a typical July day, the memorial sees more than 25,000 visitors.) Trump’s event will not only result in less opportunity for the usual flow of visitors to enjoy the memorial, it will actually jeopardize the safety of park service employees, volunteers, concession workers, visitors and residents of the gateway communities.