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Indiana woman fined for hiking to Washington’s lapel on Mount Rushmore

Indiana woman fined for hiking to Washington’s lapel on Mount Rushmore

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One of the many signs warning visitors not to climb on the talus scree and monument at Mount Rushmore.

An Indiana woman said she climbed Mount Rushmore at night because she knows it’s not allowed, according to a report by a park ranger.

Molly Venderley was arrested and charged Sunday evening with three federal misdemeanors: Climbing Mount Rushmore, trespassing after hours and being in an area closed to the public, according to court records.

She was fined $1,250 after pleading guilty to the climbing charge during a Monday hearing at the federal court in Rapid City. The other charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.

A report filed by a park ranger says Venderley is from Bloomington, Indiana. She’s 20 years old, according to the Pennington County Jail website.

What follows is in the park ranger’s report:

The ranger was monitoring security cameras from the Mount Rushmore dispatch center when he saw a flashlight moving along the talus slope — the pile of broken rocks at the base of the monument — just under George Washington.

The ranger jogged to the edge of the talus slope where he saw the climber had made it to the base of Washington. He had another security worker turn on spotlights to illuminate the memorial while he shouted to Venderley that she needed to climb down. By this time Venderley had made it to the base of Washington’s lapel, about 200 feet above the talus slope.

“OK, I’m coming” or “OK, I’m sorry,” she shouted back to the ranger.

Venderley identified herself, was sober, cooperative and uninjured except for a scratch on her hand, the report says. She said she knew the park was closed and that she wasn’t allowed to climb Mount Rushmore, which is why she did it at night.

The ranger and Venderley returned to the parking lot where she left her vehicle despite multiple announcements earlier in the day saying the park and garage were closed. Venderley texted two friends who arrived with their camping gear.

All three women are under 21 but a bottle of champagne was found in the car during a consent search. A second ranger found Venderley’s ID card as well as her older sister’s ID. Venderley denied using her sister’s ID to buy the champagne.

Both rangers had to leave after receiving an “urgent call for service” regarding “three vehicles doing high speed doughnuts” and hitting or about to hit each other in an outdoor parking lot within the park boundaries.

The second ranger told the two friends that they would receive tickets in the mail before both rangers — presumably with Venderley in tow — responded to the dangerous driving issue.

Venderley was later taken to the Pennington County Jail while her car was towed.

Multiple signs at Mount Rushmore warn visitors that it’s illegal to climb the talus slope and monument. At least one person a year has ignored those rules since 2018.

A Michigan man was fined $1,500 in August after climbing to Washington’s head.

A Nebraska woman was fined $1,000 in 2019 after she climbed up the front of the monument and nearly reached the top. A Michigan man who performed at the 2018 Hills Alive Christian music festival received the same fine for hiking on the talus slope.


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