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Daugaard considers federal offer to keep Rushmore open

Mount Rushmore National Memorial has been closed to visitors since the federal government shutdown began Oct. 1. (Wikimedia photo)

By Chet Brokaw

PIERRE — South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard is considering the federal government’s offer Thursday to let the state use its own money to reopen Mount Rushmore National Memorial during the government shutdown, but he first wants to see how much that would cost.

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Federal officials said they will allow states to pay to reopen some national parks that were closed because of the shutdown but would not give control of those parks to states.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called Daugaard early Thursday to discuss the possibility that South Dakota could pay to reopen Mount Rushmore.

“The governor is open-minded to it. He really appreciates the federal government’s willingness to evaluate other options. When we get the numbers, he’ll consider it more fully,” Dusty Johnson, Daugaard’s chief of staff, said Thursday.

“The fact they’re willing to consider working with state governments, that’s a good thing,” Johnson said.

Daugaard still prefers his earlier offer to use state employees to keep Mount Rushmore open with limited services.

But Johnson said the federal government is only offering to let the state pay for federal employees go back to work at the Black Hills mountain carved with the faces of U.S. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

“We’ve got plenty of folks who know how to run a park and great law enforcement agents who understand how to do law enforcement in a park setting,” Johnson said.

Daugaard would also consider using state money to keep Badlands National Park or other national parks in South Dakota open, but that also depends on the cost, Johnson said.