President Donald Trump is planning a triumphant return of Fourth of July fireworks at Mount Rushmore this weekend, but some activists and experts from South Dakota say they’re not welcoming his visit.
Friday’s event will mark the first time there’s been a fireworks event at the national memorial since 2009. It was called off after that because of a mountain pine beetle infestation in the area, which left dead ponderosa pine trees susceptible to fire.
Trump is scheduled to attend, arriving in the state around 6:45 p.m. He, along with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, plan to speak at the event, which will broadcast live on television and the Internet.
Fireworks are expected to begin around 9:30 p.m. Only those with tickets will be allowed to attend the event in person.
Some critics have expressed concern about the potential for coronavirus to spread among the attendees.
Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner told The Guardian he’s worried about the influx of people to the area for the event.
“Trump coming here is a safety concern not just for my people inside and outside the reservation, but for people in the Great Plains. We have such limited resources in Black Hills, and we’re already seeing infections rising,” he said.
He said members of his and other Native American groups plan to protest Trump’s visit to the controversial monument, which features the carved heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Tribal leaders say the creation of the monument was a violation of existing treaties between the U.S. government and tribes that live in the Black Hills.
“The lands on which that mountain is carved and the lands he’s about to visit belong to the Great Sioux nation under a treaty signed in 1851 and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and I have to tell him he doesn’t have permission from its original sovereign owners to enter the territory at this time,” Bear Runner said.
“It’s going to cause an uproar if he comes here. People are going to want to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest and we do not want to see anyone get hurt or the lands be destroyed.”
Noem said 7,500 people attending won’t be required to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We will have a large event on July 3. We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home, but those who want to come and join us, we’ll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one,” she said during a Fox News appearance Monday.
“But we will not be social distancing.”
South Dakota has 6,826 confirmed cases of the virus with 93 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon. The state reported 48 new cases Tuesday, with a new daily case trajectory trending downward after a 249-case high May 9, according to The New York Times‘ tracker.
Beyond the potential health risk, though, some are concerned the fireworks show could pose a threat to the surrounding natural environment. Cheryl Schreier, who was superintendent of the national memorial from 2010 to 2019, wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post, saying fireworks pose a danger to public safety, and natural and cultural resources.
She said that should there be a wildfire sparked by the fireworks or any other emergency during the event, it could be difficult to get adequate emergency services to the site in a timely manner.
“Thanks to an extremely dry summer, South Dakota faces a higher than usual risk of wildfires,” Schreier wrote.
“While cities and communities across the United States are canceling their Fourth of July celebrations to adhere to social distancing guidelines and protect their citizens, Trump and Noem are actively encouraging people to gather together, all in service of an event which poses clear risks to both visitors and the environment.
“I urge them to reconsider this event for the health and safety of us all.”
Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., the National Park Service and Interior Department planned an Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels flyover at the National Mall on Saturday.
Trump plans to make a speech on the South Lawn of the White House which will be aired on TV and the Internet. The capital’s fireworks display is expected to begin around 9 p.m. and will be visible from both Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia.