Amid talk about the risk of wildfires and water pollution from bringing a fireworks display back to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota’s top tourism leader is focused on something else: a branding opportunity.
For Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen, that opportunity is evidenced by his experience as a tourist in Germany years ago on the Fourth of July.
He remembers stopping to watch TV. CNN International was showing fireworks exploding in color over Mount Rushmore.
“The reaction of the Germans in that room was absolutely incredible,” Hagen said. “None of them had been to Mount Rushmore, but seeing the memorial was such an inspiration to them. As a South Dakotan, then, I was able to talk about the state and encourage them to visit.
“So from Tourism’s perspective, it is really a wonderful opportunity, reaching tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of people.”
The fireworks displays at Mount Rushmore ended after 2009 because they were sparking wildfires, and because chemicals in the fireworks were polluting streams near the memorial.
But Hagen says people in the tourism industry missed the publicity that the fireworks provided.
"It’s something that has just been always sort of bubbling under the surface,” he said. “People have been talking about it in the tourism industry for quite a number of years since the fireworks left.”
At Hagen's suggestion, he said, former Gov. Dennis Daugaard and current Gov. Kristi Noem both contacted President Donald Trump about restarting the fireworks displays.
That resulted in an agreement between federal and state officials to work toward bringing fireworks back to the memorial this summer. The agreement was announced in May.
Hagen says a group of state and federal officials is working to lessen the risk of wildfires and pollution from the fireworks. If all goes according to plan, state government will hire a vendor to do the fireworks show and will pay for a satellite television truck to beam video of the fireworks around the world.
Hagen says he doesn’t know what the fireworks show will cost. He expects the satellite truck to cost up to $10,000, and he hopes to find sponsors to defray the expense.
And Hagen wants people to know the fireworks show is planned for the third of July, not the fourth.