While Mount Rushmore National Memorial is famous for a large mountain sculpture, it also protects the old growth ponderosa pine forest that surrounds the faces of past presidents. Nearly 3 million visitors per year and an active rock climbing area have increased the pressure on this forest and its understory vegetation. Informal “social trails” are being formed throughout the area as visitors walk off established routes. In many places, all vegetation has been denuded, soil has been incised, and tree roots have been exposed. The goal of the intern will be to assist the Northern Great Plains Network and Mount Rushmore with mapping off-trail visitor use and preparing for a restoration plan. Another task will be to increase public awareness of the forest resource by documenting and photographing native plants throughout the park. The images will be added to the park website and other outreach materials that guide visitors to stay on the trail.
The intern’s tasks will include (1) visiting areas of the park that are seeing heavy visitor use, including existing trails, rock climbing areas, parking areas, concession facilities, and visitor center (2) learning to use mobile mapping technology and inventorying social trail locations and habitat types (3) photographing trails and common plants in the park (4) creating public outreach products to increase visibility of native flowers and leave-no-trace ethics (including social media posts and language for the park’s website) (5) working with park staff to develop recommendations for potential restoration projects and prevention of further resource damage.