South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has promised that President Trump’s Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore Friday will be filled with fireworks, few face masks and 7,500 ticketed guests who won’t be asked to social distance. It’s also likely to be accompanied by protests, heightened fire risk and fears of a COVID-19 spike. An “Anti-Trump Rally” has been planned in Keystone, two miles from Mount Rushmore, to protest the Trump administration as well as their visit to sacred lands. The national debate over tearing down statues commemorating racist and bigoted leaders has been acute in South Dakota, where the native Oglala Sioux Tribe say Mount Rushmore should be removed because it was built on native land stolen from them more than a century ago. The tribe’s president said Trump was not welcome to visit Mount Rushmore and was a “threat to my people and a threat to the land.”
South Dakota health experts have warned that the event could cause a coronavirus spike in a state, too. And local parks officials are not welcoming Trump with open arms either—Mount Rushmore hasn’t had fireworks for 10 years because the ecology of the area makes it very susceptible to wildfires. Meteorologists and park officials have warned that the area is filled with highly flammable Ponderosa pines and July is the worst month for fires, particularly because the region is in the midst of a moderate drought.