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Park Service reopens pull-outs at Mount Rushmore after complaints

RAPID CITY (AP) — The National Park Service is reopening to tourists a highway pull-out area that can be used to view and photograph Mount Rushmore from a distance following complaints that the agency is intentionally blocking viewing areas.

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The national memorial in western South Dakota's Black Hills has been closed because of the federal government shutdown. Hundreds of tourists have complained that Park Service rangers also have placed cones along an area highway to stop drivers from pulling over to take photos of the iconic landmark, the Rapid City Journal reported.

"It just seems like it's over the top," said Tom Hagen, owner-operator of Rushmore Cave, who fielded a barrage of complaints last week from tourists. "Why wouldn't you let someone pull over and take a picture?"

The National Park Service never intended to ruin anyone's view of Mount Rushmore, said Patricia Trap, deputy director of the agency's Midwest region.

"None of that is correct," she said.

The Park Service has a limited number of rangers available during the shutdown, and some pull-out areas were blocked with cones out of security concerns because there weren't enough rangers to monitor those areas, she said.

The agency is reopening one pull-out area whose closure sparked most of the complaints. The area, unofficially called "profile pull-out," offers a popular side view of the monument that features the stone-carved faces of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Trap said illegal parking at the pull-out area has become a public safety concern, and at least one driver drove over the cones in protest.

The Park Service has gotten help from state patrol officers and figured out a way to rearrange its rangers while still maintaining security, Trap said.

"We very much appreciate our continued working relationship with the state of South Dakota," she said.