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Mount Rushmore to undergo facelift, but not the faces themselves

The Avenue of Flags leading up to Mount Rushmore will be revamped in a major renovation project at the park that will start this fall. Photo courtesy of National Park Service

KEYSTONE, S.D. — One of the region's top tourist attractions—the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota --- is getting a $5 to $7 million facelift.

Actually, it's won't be a facelift on the four faces of the presidents carved into the granite mountain at the Black Hills attraction.

Rather, the focus will be upgrading the visitor's center and replacing pavers that are cracking and dissolving on the main pathway to the landmark, the Avenue of Flags, that displays flags from all 50 states.

Maureen McGee-Ballinger, chief of interpretation and education, said they are awaiting bids on the project that will begin this fall and continue into 2020, so the exact cost of the two-year project isn't known yet.

She said there has been a backlog of about $14 million in deferred maintenance at the memorial, but taking care of the visitor's center and the main pathway to the faces is the priority right now.

McGee-Ballinger said the first year will include working on the roof of the visitor's center, where the millions of park visitors each year can view the four faces. They also plan to replace pavers there with poured concrete and update the plumbing, electrical and ventilation inside the building.

The center will be closed for 10 months while that work is completed, although the memorial will remain open.

The second year of the project will be replacing those pavers with poured concrete on the Avenue of Flags. The pavers are damaged and eroding, McGee-Ballinger said, as moisture gets underneath them. Replacing them each year has been "quite costly," she said.

The granite columns on the Avenue of Flags will also be taken down, with the flags of all states moved over to one side in a concrete structure that will improve accessibility on the pathway and provide a better view of the flags.

Meanwhile, McGee-Ballinger said the faces of the four presidents are in great shape. She said because of the mountain's fine-grained granite, the rock only erodes about one inch every 10,000 years.

The last time the faces were touched was in 2005 when staff pressure-washed lichens off the faces. Staff also works on filling cracks each year if needed as the mountain is computer monitored.

Also underway at the memorial is a $2 million fundraiser by the Mount Rushmore Society to replace two movies shown to visitors and equipment to show them. Both videos are decades old, said McGee-Ballinger.

The park had 3.3 million visitors last year.