The Mount Rushmore fireworks non-story

Yesterday, John covered the renewed liberal interest in getting rid of Mount Rushmore. But the new hotness today is the pushback against having an Independence Day fireworks display there tomorrow. It’s a show that the President has been pushing for, designed to kickstart some patriotic enthusiasm in a time when more than a third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression. And since the Bad Orange Man is in favor of it, the usual suspects have to oppose the idea.

In an effort to bolster support for canceling the celebration, the Washinton Post summons up Cheryl Schreier for an op-ed. She served as the Superintendent of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial from early in the Obama administration until she stepped down last year. She produces a laundry list of reasons for the fireworks show to be canceled, some of which are fair, while others seem rather dubious.

It has been more than 10 years since fireworks were last seen at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The fireworks were canceled in 2010, my first year as superintendent of the memorial, and they never resumed during my tenure. While such patriotic celebrations were memorable, they also endangered public safety and irreplaceable natural and cultural resources within the national park and surrounding area.

Yet this year, President Trump and his administration, with the support of South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem, have insisted on resuming the fireworks on July 3. And the Interior Department, under Secretary David Bernhardt, is allowing this to happen, overlooking the well-documented danger this event presents.

Schreier was part of the team that oversaw the cancellation of the annual fireworks display in 2010 when Barack Obama was in office and maintained the policy throughout her tenure, so she’s somewhat immunized from accusations of taking this position for political purposes. But the reasons she offers should still be open to scrutiny. One of her first listed concerns is the possibility of wildfires breaking out as a result of the fireworks. If this event was taking place in California you would probably share that opinion, but the Black Hills are currently seeing more issues from thunderstorms than any sort of dry spell. Also, the experts tell us that virtually all of the wildfires caused by fireworks are the result of amateurs setting off bottle rockets or other such displays close to the ground. We are advised that “the safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a public fireworks show put on by professionals.”

Schreier goes on to say that evacuating people in the event of any type of emergency may be difficult because “the anticipated traffic congestion and gridlock could last for hours.” But as the author herself points out, attendance is being limited to 7,500 ticket-holders. Average park attendance in July is more than triple that, at roughly 25,000 tourists per day. Something doesn’t add up here. She also brings up the issue of ground pollution caused by perchlorates from the fireworks. I suppose that’s a valid concern anywhere you have such displays, but is one evening of fireworks really a major contributing factor? I would imagine the more than nine million visitors the park receives annually might be a bigger cause.

Personally, it’s hard for me to get too excited about this controversy. I could do without fireworks entirely at this point in my life, though I certainly went to see them many times when I was younger. They frequently take place too late in the evening for my normal sleep cycle and they induce panic in both dogs and cats. Of course, I don’t know how many people are bringing their pets all the way to the Black Hills specifically for a fireworks show anyway.

Meanwhile, Native Americans are calling to have the monument destroyed. This isn’t some new controversy originating in the age of Trump. It’s a fight that’s been going on for decades. I can appreciate that the Lakota nation views those hills as sacred land and their history is filled with plenty of abuse. A federal court awarded the tribe more than $17 million in 1979 to cover their claims over the land, but the tribe turned it down. And frankly, it just seems impractical to turn around and destroy such an iconic monument at this point.