Mt Rushmore Money

South Dakota Quarter with Mt Rushmore featuredThere are two parts to this story. Part 1: South Dakota issued their state quarter yesterday at a ceremony held at the Mt Rushmore National Memorial. You can read about the event in the Rapid City Journal ("Coin buffs roll out for new S.D. quarter"). According to the article, 3000 people showed up to watch the Director of the US Mint hang out with the South Dakota Governor and hand out quarters to a bunch of kids in the front row. The collectors also had the opportunity to buy $10 rolls of the new quarters, of which $14,000 worth were sold at the event. There were also a limited supply of uncirculated commemorative sets available through the Mount Rushmore History Association, which sold out at the event. New sets are on order and should be available again in December.

Part 2 of this story has to do with a different type of Mt Rushmore money. I'll be the first to admit that I am no investigative reporter. I usually re-tell stories of the parks available in the press, then add a little of my own opinion to the mix. But, I may have some original news here to share (at least it was new to me when I heard it). This news has to do with the parking fees associated with Mt Rushmore. As you may have read before, Mt Rushmore does not have an entrance fee. In fact, I've been told that included in the park's charter is language that forbids the park from ever having an entrance fee. I have tried to confirm this, but haven't been able to find Mt Rushmore's enabling legislation anywhere on the web (I can't seem to get thomas.loc.gov to search back to 1925, the year the Memorial was established, although, I'm sure the doc is out there somewhere). Anyway, back to the story. So, while the park may not have an entrance fee, it does have a parking fee. This parking fee is somewhat controversial because it applies to nearly everyone, regardless of your National Parks Pass, Golden Eagle Pass, or any other type of federal lands pass you may have purchased. Apparently there are a very limited number free parking spots within Mt Rushmore that are available on a first-come basis.

While doing a little socializing this last week at an conference for interpreters, I had the opportunity to talk with a fellow who works at Rushmore. I asked him about the parking fees. He told me that with 3.5 million visitors a year, the park needed some type of parking lot. So, the park contracted with a company to build and manage a big new parking lot (the company is called Presidential Parking Inc.). This fellow at Rushmore told me that the parking fee is paying for the lot, so that at some point in the far away future, the lot will be bought-and-paid-for and the parking fee will go away. He didn't mention how many years this pay-off would take. But, he did mention something else that I found pretty intriguing.

In a time of shrinking park budgets, we have heard time and again that Park Service managers are asked to do more with less. This has led to many creative fund-raising efforts in order to keep core park programs in operation. And so, I was told that of the $8 required to park at Rushmore, $2 are taken off the top and routed to interpretive services within the park.

At this point in the conversation, I was scratching my head. This type of creative fund-raising started to sound a little to creative to me. If Mt Rushmore is not supposed to collect entrance fees, AND the parking fee is not discounted at all for federal lands pass holders, is it ethical to take money earmarked for paying off the parking lot and transfer it over to the NPS run interpretation services? And what happens when the parking lot is paid off, will the the parking fee still be applied in order to support the interpretive services that have become dependent on it? I didn't press this issue with the fellow. After all, we were sharing a beer and I appreciated him giving me as much additional information as he had. I have a feeling that if I asked whether his program was ethical, we wouldn't have any more conversations that week. Does this type of creative fund-raising surprise you? Is it right?
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