Mount Rushmore Society celebrates its 90th anniversary

The Mount Rushmore Society is celebrating its 90th anniversary of supporting Mount Rushmore National Memorial. A virtual 90th anniversary celebration is October 3, at 5 p.m. (MT).

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The Society has a long history with the park, even before it was completed. Through an Act of Congress, the Society was created in 1930 to solicit and manage private funds for the carving and to help citizens be involved through memberships.

In 1941, the Society became the first concessionaire in the park, specifically operating a gift shop in one of the original Sculptor Studios and operating the binocular concessions through the Tower Optical Company. During the time, this raised funds for park needs.

In the 1950s, the original visitor center, amphitheater and gift shop were constructed at the park as part of the National Park Service Mission 66 initiative. The Society was there, repaying more than $750,000 in appropriations back to Congress for this construction, and paving the way for more people to visit the park.

However, there is always change and need for more growth. By the 1990s, it was time to update facilities again to account for increased visitation and more accessibility. The Society embarked on the Mount Rushmore Preservation Fund, which resulted in $56 million raised to construct the buildings seen today, including the original Avenue of Flags. The Society also built a new parking garage, which the organization operated for 20 years. It was then turned over — debt free — to the National Park Service in 2016.

Educating the visitor has always been part of the mission. As an example, in 1986, the Society produced the movie viewed daily in the Lincoln Borglum Museum by thousands of visitors to introduce them to the history of the park. They also produced the award-winning movie, Freedom: America’s Lasting Legacy, viewed during the evening lighting ceremony beginning in 2000. With its debut, the ceremony became the largest attended evening program in the park service.

The Society opened the Mount Rushmore Bookstores in 1993, providing educational books and products reviewed by the National Park Service for the public. Presently, these stores are located in the Information Center, Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and Sculptor’s Studio.

Over 10 years ago, the Society created Mount Rushmore Self-Guided Tours, which is a recorded, multimedia guide incorporating narration, music, interviews, sound effects, photos, video and historic recordings of Gutzon Borglum, Lincoln Borglum, and workers. Also included in the tour is the Junior Ranger Quest game, a new adventure that allows kids of all ages to participate in the Junior Ranger Program, virtually.

The Society won the contract in 2015 for operating Mount Rushmore Memories Airport Store at Rapid City Regional Airport. The Society also opened Mount Rushmore Memories on Main in 2018 to be the first point of contact with visitors and locals with Black Hills gifts and awareness of the area to bolster tourism.

The Society has also fundraised and completed:The $325,000 Youth Exploration Area, a kid-friendly space where rangers provide educational programs inside the park about the carving, presidents, Lakota culture and more.

The $200,000 rehabilitation of the Blackberry Trail for hiking and equestrian use. The trail can be accessed south of the Mount Rushmore parking garage.

The donation of $500,000 over a 5-year period to be used specifically for sculpture preservation, which includes the ropes team that periodically inspects the carving for cracks and fissures in the rock and repairs them.

The Society is currently fundraising for the Monumental Movie Campaign, to update the two movies the organization produced decades ago.

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