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Mount Rushmore Visitor Services Redevelopment

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Sequesters 27,000 lbs of atmospheric carbon and intercepts 59,000 gallons of stormwater annually in newly-planted trees and shrubs.
  • Reduces soil compaction and plant ecosystem damage by achieving 95% pedestrian containment within designated areas through a 40% increase in hardscape, curbing, and railings.
  • Prevented over 25 tons of polyethylene, equivalent to 3,360,000 plastic bags, from entering landfills through the use of composite decking made from 95% recycled materials.

Social

  • Hosts an average of 20 events per month during the summer, including the popular Mount Rushmore Evening Program lighting ceremony, which attracts over 1,500 visitors nightly from May to August.
  • Contributed to a 6% increase in average annual visitors from the 1990s to the post-redevelopment 2000s.
  • Provides appropriate access to and visibility for the monument for 91% of 23 surveyed visitors.
  • Provides the appearance and feeling of a national memorial for 81% of 23 surveyed visitors.

Economic

  • Contributes to Mount Rushmore’s impact on the regional economy, which amounts to $346 million in visitor spending annually.
  • Generates an average of $3,895,000 in annual parking revenue.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Wyss Associates, DHM Design

  • Project Type

    Park/Open space
    Recreational trail

  • Former Land Use

    Retrofit

  • Location

    13000 SD-244
    Keystone, South Dakota 57751

    Map it

  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    200 acres

  • Budget

    $57 million (buildings and grounds)

  • Completion Date

    2001

Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial attracts nearly 2 million visitors per year. Prior to the redesign of the Visitor Services area, the memorial was being “loved to death” as its infrastructure was inadequate for both predicted and desired visitorship, most notably the parking accommodations, pedestrian and vehicular circulation paths, and access to the sculpture. The landscape was also experiencing ecosystem degradation at concerning rates. The Mount Rushmore Memorial Visitor Services redevelopment ensures the protection of the memorial, offering low-profile terraced parking, indigenous plantings, new interpretive facilities, and widened trails and plaza spaces that accommodate users of all abilities, minimize unintended circulation and welcome a steadily increasing flow of visitors to the memorial.

  • An amphitheater was designed to accommodate 2,000 visitors.
  • The 0.6-mile Presidential Trail, which leads from the visitor center past the various viewing areas, is made of concrete and composite decking derived from recycled plastic and is supported by pillars that protect the native landscape below. All trails were widened to 12 ft with curbs and railings to create clear circulation patterns
  • The Entry Promenade features granite paving, curbing, colonnades, seating, and the Parade of Flags, which features the flag of each U.S. state and territory with a pillar showing the date that it entered the Union. 
  • 5,000 durable granite pavers are used in the entry promenade and plaza spaces. 
  • The 2-tiered parking area was divided into north and south sections, allowing for maximum interior daylighting and providing sufficient wall openings to avoid the need for mechanical air handling systems. The new parking area has 600 parking spaces, as compared to 120 in the original surface parking lot.
  • 1000 Black Hills-indigenous shrubs and forbs were planted around the parking structure and entrance promenade. Some species include alpine currant (Ribes alpinum), chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea), and a wildflower/grass mixture including big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis). 
  • 150 trees were included in the design, including native ponderosa pine transplants from the area.
  • Over 10 interpretive opportunities include the visitor interpretation center, visitor information center, on-site displays, historic reenactments, and public speakers. 4 plaques on the Presidential Trail explain the profile of the faces.

Challenge

The redesign of the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial Visitor Services attracted a high level of local, regional and national interest in the project outcome. The project was extensively covered in local and national media. Local sentiment voiced in public forums expressed strong attachment to the rustic charm that existed at Mt. Rushmore. Unfortunately, the monument’s existing conditions were not ADA-compliant or sized for the level of visitation anticipated. The overarching challenge was to create a site that accomplished these design goals while also ensuring that the community input was collected and considered. 

Solution

The planning and design process provided multiple forums for local stakeholders to express themselves, which helped inform a plan that met ADA and capacity goals. Public outreach and public comment were an integral part of the planning process. Alternative concepts were made public prior to decision-making.  A vocal local group preferred no change, which was an alternative considered but not selected. The final master plan of this high-visibility project included compromises, and not everyone saw their desired plan implemented. 

The recycled composite decking for the Presidential Trail cost $82,130 more than standard wood decking. The composite decking had a better coefficient of friction when wet, thereby offering a safer walking surface on rainy days and with the heavy dew that sometimes occurs on this site in the mornings. The composite decking also requires less maintenance, which is vital in a high traffic area, and was made from recycled materials. 

Granite pavers for the primary walkways cost $199,220 more than standard concrete. Concrete was a less expensive alternative, but the granite pavers were ultimately selected due to the consistency of materials with the granite sculpture and their long-term durability and lifespan. 

  • One of the factors affecting this multi-year project was a unique construction contracting method. Standard federal procedures would have resulted in longer than anticipated scheduling, but since the project was privately funded, it was an ideal opportunity for a public-private partnership between the National Park Service and the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial Society. To expedite the contracting procedures, the National Park Service maintained all quality control and design approval responsibility while allowing the Mount Rushmore National Memorial to take over contract management. This required excellent communication and documentation and has served as a model for other National Park Service public-private partnerships throughout the national park system.

Granite Pavers: Coldspring
Establishment Irrigation: Rainbird
Recycled Composite Decking: Trex

Project Team

Client: National Park Service; Mt. Rushmore National Memorial Society
Landscape Architect and Lead Designer: Wyss Associates, Inc.; DHM Design 
Architect: DHM Design; Anderson Mason Dale Architects
General Contractor: Kurtz Construction; Gustafson Builders
Landscape Contractors: Shamrock Landscape; Rockingtree Landscape
Electrical and Environmental Engineer, Lighting Designer: Dunham Associates

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect completed the master planning of the complete facility including the vehicular entry, pedestrian connection, interpretive center, and viewing areas. This plan served as a guide for all future work generated by the multidisciplinary team of architects, scientists, engineers, and landscape architects. The landscape architect’s design further delineated each of the features in greater detail. Construction documentation and administration allowed competitive bidding and quality control through the construction process.

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Matthew James, Assistant Professor, South Dakota State University
Research Assistant: Bailey Peterson, MLA Candidate, South Dakota State University
Undergraduate Research Assistant: Erika Roeber, South Dakota State University
Firm Liaison: Patrick Wyss, FASLA, Wyss Associates, Inc. 
August 2015

To cite:

James, Matthew, Bailey Peterson, and Erika Roeber. “Mount Rushmore Visitor Services Redevelopment.” Landscape Performance Series. Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2015. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs0960

Topics

Soil creation, preservation & restoration, Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Reused/recycled materials, Recreational & social value, Cultural preservation, Scenic quality & views, Access & equity, Visitor spending, Reused/recycled materials, Trail, Cultural landscapes

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