Preparation underway for Trump visit to Mount Rushmore

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2002, file photo, the sun rises on Mt. Rushmore National Memorial near Keystone, S.D. as the flag is flown at half staff in honor of the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States. When President Donald Trump speaks at the Mount Rushmore national memorial Friday, July 3, 2020, before the first fireworks show there in years, he'll stand before a crowd of thousands of people who won't be required to socially distance or wear masks despite the coronavirus pandemic. Public health experts say the lack of social distancing and enforced mask wearing could lead to a surge in the disease, while the fireworks risk setting the surrounding forest ablaze.(AP Photo/Laura Rauch, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — President Donald Trump will speak at the Mount Rushmore national memorial before the first fireworks show there in several years.

Friday night’s event, with 7,500 tickets issued, will feature a patriotic display at a monument known as “the Shrine of Democracy” in a swath of country largely loyal to Trump.

Event organizers said this week that space was so tight they had to strictly limit the number of journalists who could cover it. The 7,500 people who received tickets will be ushered into two seating areas: A group of about 3,000 will watch from an amphitheater and viewing decks near the base of the monument, while the rest will have to bring lawn chairs to watch the fireworks from a gravel parking lot outside the memorial grounds.

Many without tickets are expected to crowd into other areas around the monument where they can get a glimpse of the president and the fireworks. The pyrotechnics alone will run $350,000, with the state bearing the cost.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, a Trump ally who has largely avoided ordering restrictions during the pandemic, said this week that the event wouldn’t require social distancing or masks, though masks will be available to anyone who wants one. She cast it as a personal choice for attendees, telling Fox News: “Every one of them has the opportunity to make a decision that they’re comfortable with.”

Most of the thousands of attendees at Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, didn’t wear masks or practice social distancing, though unlike the Mount Rushmore event, that one was held indoors.

Fireworks displays were canceled after 2009 because a mountain pine beetle infestation had dried out trees near the memorial and in the national forest that surrounds it.

“Some people are very excited about it, they were sad to see the fireworks end,” said Cheryl Schreir, who retired from serving as the Superintendent at Mount Rushmore National Memorial last year

The National Park Service conducted an environmental assessment to study the potential impact of the fireworks and found that it would not significantly damage the memorial or forests around it. But it did note that in a dry year, pyrotechnics could start a large wildfire that would impact the entire ecosystem and landscape of the monument.

Ian Fury, the governor’s spokesman, said firefighters will have a 20-person crew onsite, along with extra fire engines.

Fury said that it’s rained in the region in recent days, adding, “The team on the ground is feeling good about our ability to put on a safe and celebratory event.”