Mount Rushmore still seeing visitors

While Xanterra is closing its operations at Mount Rushmore National Memorial until May 21, visitors still seem to be flocking to the monument.


“Things are changing by the hour,” said Lloyd Shelton, food and beverage director with Xanterra Collection. “It’s a huge impact to the company, but we have to be socially responsible.” 


The company has shut all of its operations down nationwide. Any leftover food at Mount Rushmore will be given to the employees. 


Based on a companywide directive, all Xanterra Travel Collection operations were to close effective at noon March 20, including the Carvers’ Cafe and the gift shop.


Fees at the parking facility will not be charged, said Maureen McGee-Ballinger, director of interpretation for Mount Rushmore.


“Due to guidance regarding confined spaces and the White House directive of a 10 person limit, the Information Center at Mount Rushmore will be closing effective 5 p.m.  Friday March 20,” she added. “The Information Center closure includes the Mount Rushmore Bookstore.


Mount Rushmore visitor services will be extremely limited as a result of the concession operations and Information Center closures. However the park grounds remain open.”


The monument itself is still open and still drawing plenty of visitors. Thirty-three year old Samantha, who declined to give her last name, was visiting with her family from north of Denver, Colo.,  while on an “extended” spring break.


“The flu is worse than this,” she said. “We’re making sure we’re washing our hands and not near large groups of people. And this is outside. We’re not going to any inside museums.”


Her family had made plans about a month ago and are staying at a hotel in Keystone.


Mitchell Summer, 21, who was with a group of college friends on break from Iowa said, “people were blowing this out of proportion.”


The group did notice a few peculiarities on their trip.


“Restaurants are out of some things,” Summer said. “Last night in Lead we couldn’t get steak or ranch. Also there are no salt and pepper shakers on the table. You have to use packets.”


Dennis Bebhoz, 58, and his wife, Sue, were on an extended trip that included stops in California, New Orleans, La., Idaho and South Dakota.


“We steered clear of Seattle, Wash. with everything going on,” Bebhoz said. “We were in San Francisco, Calif., last Friday before it got bad.”


 The couple did say that things were getting “ugly” there.


“We saw a guy get on the trolley and looked at (a woman of Asian descent) and went ballistic on her,” Bebhoz said. 


The two waited in line for a ferry to Alcatraz and said hundreds of people were there.


They reported that Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier were not open but that some places were open and not staffed.


“We visited a mission church in Idaho that you could just walk right in,” Bebhoz said. “It was like a ghost town with the visitor center closed.”


The couple also noted that most restaurants have been closed in Idaho and South Dakota, forcing them to eat at drive-thrus or order take out. 


Linda Campbell, 64 of Denver, Colo., was also comfortable traveling. She planned this trip about a month ago and felt no reason to change her plans. 


“We were driving,” Campbell said. “If we had been flying it might have been different.”


She also noticed, “most everything was closed. The drive-thrus were open.”


This was her first visit to the monument.


“We wanted to do this so we’re gonna do it,” Campbell said.


Campbell was staying in Rapid City and observed that “the businesses are starting to close. Starting next week everybody’s closing down. Not a lot of people.”


According to the National Park Service (NPS) website, “the NPS is modifying operations, until further notice, for facilities and programs that cannot adhere to this guidance. Where it is possible to adhere to this guidance, outdoor spaces will remain open to the public.”


The NPS urges visitors to do their part when visiting a park and to follow Centers for Disease Control guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

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