National Park Service denies South Dakota request for Mount Rushmore Independence Day fireworks

“After careful consideration, the NPS has determined that we are unable to grant your request for this permit to hold a special event with fireworks at the Memorial,” the National Park Service wrote in a letter on March 14 to the South Dakota Department of Tourism. “Based on the information provided in the application, we have determined that multiple such criteria are present for the requested event, each of which would be independently sufficient to deny the request for a permit.”

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The Park Service wrote that “fireworks are viewed by multiple Tribes as an adverse effect to the traditional cultural landscape,” and said that a Tribal Cultural Survey conducted in May 2021 after South Dakota’s 2020 fireworks event showed “ample opposition from the Tribes to the 2020 event.” 

Fireworks at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Fireworks at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. (H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images)

The NPS also said a fireworks event “poses threats to the environment and Memorial resources,” and warned that due to “current drought conditions and the 2022 wildfire outlook,” a firework event “would cause a high likelihood of a wildfire ignition.”

South Dakota, in 2020, hosted the fireworks display for the first time since 2009, after having been canceled due to wildfire risks.

The event, which included an appearance from former President Donald Trump, provoked criticism that the state was disregarding guidance on social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, though, argued that contact tracing was unable to track a single case of COVID-19 back to the event.

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South Dakota’s request for its Independence Day fireworks celebration for 2021 was also denied by the Park Service. That denial cited tribal objections, COVID and alleged danger to the park itself. 

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Feb. 25on , 2022, in Orlando, Florida.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Feb. 25on , 2022, in Orlando, Florida. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

“While current trends indicate COVID is not a factor in denying the permit, it remains a source of uncertainty,” the Park Service wrote.

NPS, in its letter this week, also said that during the 2020 event, the memorial was closed to the public for the day to “accommodate the ticketed event, which allowed approximately 7,500 visitors to attend.”

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“The 2020 event affected tens of thousands who were not able to visit the Memorial or had their visit cut short, and the NPS seeks to serve as many visitors as feasible over the holiday,” NPS wrote, adding that the Memorial has “programs scheduled each year during the Independence Day period” and the “proposed special event would thus unreasonably interfere” with those planned services.

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota is one of America's most recognizable tourist attractions.

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota is one of America’s most recognizable tourist attractions. (iStock)

Following NPS’ 2021 denial, Noem sued the Biden administration, after she had asked the president to uphold a 2019 memorandum agreement between the National Park Service and the state, which allowed the return of the fireworks event for 2020. 

“Mount Rushmore is the best place in America to celebrate our nation’s birthday – I just wish President Biden could see that,” Noem told Fox News. “Last year, the president hypocritically held a fireworks celebration in Washington, D.C., while denying us our own event. This year, it looks like they are planning to do the same.” 

Noem said that NPS announced the denial “less than 24 hours after we reminded the court that this year’s permit application was still pending.” 

“Many of the reasons presented for their denial have been previously addressed, indicating that these reasons are not in good faith,” Noem said, vowing to “move forward with our litigation and urge the court to help us come to a speedy resolution.” 

Noem’s office told Fox News that under the governor’s leadership, the fireworks celebration in 2020 was returned to Mount Rushmore after being canceled for more than a decade. 

“The 2020 celebration incorporated NPS’ regular programming that was referenced in the letter,” Noem’s office said. 

Noem is currently in litigation with NPS over the rejection of the 2021 celebration and for future annual celebrations. The lawsuit, Noem v. Haaland, is pending in U.S. District Court for the Eighth Circuit. 

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