Presidents Park (Closed)
Lead, South Dakota
"Move over Mt. Rushmore! You've got company!" So proclaims the brochure for Presidents Park -- a wooded retreat in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where citizens can stroll peacefully among the giant heads of the nation's Chief Executives.
It doesn't take genius to discern that tourist traffic already in the region to see four heads carved into a mountain (or five, lest we forget the almost completed Chief Crazy Horse) might be lured to also visit big busts of ALL the Presidents.
Presidents Park is open year round; the asphalt in the parking lot was one month old when we stopped by in 2003. That year, David Adickes, the sculptor who rendered the gargantuan Sam Houston and Houston airport's George HW Bush statue ("Winds of Change"), opened Presidents Park (and a duplicate near Williamsburg, Virginia in 2004).
The 43 heads are arranged chronologically along a path winding up into a rocky knoll of tall pines. George Washington, generally accepted in history as the first President of the USA, looks over the snack bar.
The busts are 16-20 feet tall, with the seven greatest Presidents' heads rendered at about 12 times life-size. Each head is accompanied by an informational display.
The climb up the head path is gradual, but a little strenuous for seniors. Knowing their likely audience, the park provides motorized golf carts, and warming enclosures and rest areas along the way.
Wild turkeys roam the slope. The tree shade makes for challenging photos, but the dappling adds character. You can capture a Nixon and Ford lurking side by side in the shadows, or G. W. Bush gazing toward a slightly smirking Clinton. Beyond those two there's room for another century worth of larger-than-life likenesses...
The Park has interspersed a couple of joke items along the way. A path twist at McKinley features a sign: "Turn of the Century." Visitors can sit on "Monica Rock." There is a Watergate picnic area behind Nixon's head. The restrooms are labeled "Presidents" and "First Ladies."
Adickes created the heads at his studio in Houston, Texas. He blocks out the basic shape with large strips of Styrofoam, then plasters over for the fine detail before the mold is cast. Apparently an infinite number of giant president heads can be manufactured from the molds.
The heads are hollow (like we suspected of our politicians), but still weigh 16-24 tons.
When we visited, the gift shop was still working out kinks. Souvenir plastic daggers may not be the right idea, but the wholesalers brought 'em in anyway.
Presidents Park isn't bad, but something is missing. Should the heads perpetually slide on rails, and give historic speeches? Too gimmicky? Maybe they're just too new. When Polk gets moldy streaks running from his eyes, and birds start nesting, it might add to the entertainment value.
Adickes is expanding the giant head landscape as a commercial endeavor. In addition to his second park in Virginia, other big statues are on the drawing board. At the Presidents Park web site, he's promoting the Icon Project, which "Will take your dream and turn it into a permanent creation of art that will be a wonderful tribute to your mentor, idol or relative."
Just imagine -- in your front yard a giant bust of a beloved grade school soccer coach can rub shoulders with Spiderman and Aunt Matilda.
Update - April 2007: David Adickes told us that the "Monica Rock" lettering on the rock across from Bill Clinton has been removed. "That got a lot of bad attention," he said. "We were accused of disrespecting a President, so we had to take it off."
In 2010, we had reports the Park was closed and thinking of moving.