President Donald Trump is planning to attend Mount Rushmore’s annual Independence Day celebration to watch the newly reinstated fireworks show that will be held on July 3.
Trump told conservative radio host Dan Bongino on Friday that he was planning to see the fireworks show, which hasn’t been held at South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore National Memorial since 2009.
“For 20 years or something, it hasn’t been allowed for environmental reasons,” Trump told Bongino. “You believe that one? It’s all stone.”
The stone monument isn’t the element at risk from a fireworks show; the surrounding forest is. The Black Hills forest, which surrounds Mount Rushmore, is susceptible to severe wildfires, especially in summer months.
Memorial officials carried out a prescribed burn in the forest on Wednesday in order to prevent high-risk fires from spreading out of control.
Trump resurrected plans for the fireworks show in May 2019, nearly 10 years after the annual event was scratched. In his interview with Bongino, Trump cast doubt on whether fireworks would pose any risk.
Trump has talked about his plans to attend a large Fourth of July gathering even as states are deciding how to cautiously reopen their economies and lift stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. Health experts warn that lifting quarantine orders too soon may cause the spread of the coronavirus to accelerate again.
National park officials canceled the annual Fourth of July fireworks display at the Mount Rushmore monument in 2010, citing the wildfire threat to the 1,200-acre forest.
The Black Hills forest had been plagued by a pine beetle epidemic that has killed thousands of acres of ponderosa pines. Trees that have been infested by the beetles are more combustible, and a wildfire could devastate the fragile forest, a National Park ranger told NPR in 2010.
“Our fuel loads would be so tremendous that [a] catastrophic firestorm would sweep right over the top of the memorial and it would be a catastrophic loss of all facilities,” ranger Bruce Weisman, who has been fighting against the spread of these beetles, told NPR.
In 2010, Mount Rushmore’s chief of interpretation and education, Navnit Singh, said the decision to close the show was “approved at the highest levels of the National Park Service.”
“The risk is unacceptable, given the current condition of the national forest in and around Mount Rushmore,” Singh said.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, thanked Trump for bringing the fireworks show back to the park and welcomed him to the memorial for the Fourth of July weekend celebration.
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