- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

KEYSTONE, S.D. (AP) - Since Mount Rushmore National Memorial opened, National Park Service rangers have been using a temporary tent that wasn’t a very convenient classroom for teaching young children about the presidents’ faces, Black Hills wildlife and area history.

But the temporary tent is history, the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1gCvokJ ) reported.

The Mount Rushmore Society recently unveiled its newest gift to the memorial: the Youth Exploration Area Children’s Shelter, a nearly $400,000 project that has been four years in the making.

The society received national and local contributions to build the structure, with hopes that the monument’s education programs will continue expanding, said Gary Keller, development director for the society.

The tent didn’t make life easy for park rangers trying to keep the attention of children visiting the monument, and visitation numbers suffered over time. With the temporary structure, youth programs like Junior Rangers and Youth Exploration Area had no place to call their own.

“There wasn’t much for kids to do there,” Keller said on Wednesday. “These are too good of programs to be sorely lacking for our visitors.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month, the Mount Rushmore Society recognized major donors, including the National Park Foundation, the Adams-Mastrovich Family Foundation and the Black Hills Corporation Foundation.

The National Park Foundation donated $100,000 because it recognized the Youth Exploration Area as one of 11 worthy projects to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016.

The shelter is not an enclosed structure but will include storage space and have electrical outlets in the near future. It is at the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Heritage Village on the Presidential Trail, beneath the George Washington carving.

“The shelter and the programs are designed to be hands-on and for children to learn by getting to touch everything,” Keller said. “That could range from animal hides and bones to rocks to show geological features of the Hills.”

For park rangers, the shelter signals a new beginning, providing a go-to spot for young children to pique their interest in the memorial and the Black Hills.

Maureen McGee-Ballinger, chief of interpretation and education for the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, said park rangers have individual discretion on the programs they can present at the youth shelter.

The new structure will maximize the ability of each ranger to have his or her own workshop, she said.

And, she said, weather will be less of a problem.

“This shelter will encourage kids to stay longer,” McGee-Ballinger said. “With the tent, if it were too windy, we’d have to pull it down. Now, with a permanent structure and storage, more activities can be held in one spot.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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