PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — 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.
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. Federal officials have said they will provide those costs soon, but have not said when, he said.
The governor's original plan to use state employees to keep Mount Rushmore open would cost very little, but the federal plan could be expensive, Johnson said.
Desi Frederick, manager of Iron Creek Leather and Gifts in Keystone, said the closure of Mount Rushmore has hurt her business and others in the town that caters to visitors just a few miles from the monument.
"Every business in Keystone has seen a hit from it," she said.
Frederick wants to see Mount Rushmore reopened, but she said the federal government should pay for it.
Nort Johnson, president of the Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Association, which has more than 500 business members, said he hopes Mount Rushmore reopens soon because its closure is cutting profits for tourism businesses. He's glad the governor is considering using state money to reopen it, but believes the operation should be funded by the federal government.
Many vacationers are upset to find Mount Rushmore closed, Johnson said.
"They want to get in and have a little time with our monument. That's what every American deserves. That's why it's been federally funded forever," he said. "I hope they come to their senses soon in Washington and allow the American public to get on with their vacations and allow our businesses to get on with their work."
Meanwhile, the National Park Service is reopening a highway pull-out area from where tourists can view and photograph Mount Rushmore. Hundreds of tourists had complained that Park Service rangers placed cones along a highway to prevent them from pulling over to take photos of the landmark, the Rapid City Journal reported.
Patricia Trap, deputy director of the National Park Service's Midwest region, said the agency never intended to ruin anyone's view of the monument.
The agency has a limited number of rangers available during the shutdown, so areas that could not be monitored were blocked with cones for safety reasons, she said.