Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to enjoy a few quiet days in the Black Hills. After the Buffalo Roundup my family and I spent the weekend in Custer State Park, soaking up the beautiful weather and experiencing the leaves changing into their remarkable fall colors.
Our family has spent a great deal of time in Custer State Park, with our kids and grandkids experiencing the wonder and beauty of one of the most incredible natural areas in the country. I’m proud that our state park system has preserved natural wonders like Sylvan Lake and the Needles for nearly a century.
We’ve been to many of South Dakota’s 63 other state parks and recreation areas. I have firsthand knowledge of how the Department of Game, Fish and Parks preserves our natural areas while making them accessible to the public.
Spearfish Canyon is another jewel of the Black Hills — a natural wonder that rivals those of Custer State Park. That’s why I’m excited about the possibility of establishing Spearfish Canyon State Park in the upper portion of the canyon.
South Dakota already has significant holdings in the area, thanks in part to the generosity of the Spearfish Canyon Foundation. Over the last few years, South Dakota has acquired parcels of land in and around Little Spearfish Canyon, including Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Falls. These areas can form the nucleus of a great state park, and now we are hoping that a land swap with the federal government will better enhance the Spearfish Canyon experience.
The land swap will create larger, contiguous land tracts for both the U.S. Forest Service and the state, allowing South Dakota to establish a state park and enabling the Forest Service to more efficiently manage its holdings.
The proposed Spearfish Canyon State Park would be 1,600 acres and include the Roughlock and Spearfish falls, parts of Spearfish and Little Spearfish creeks, Savoy fishing pond, and land from Spearfish Falls to the Little Spearfish trailhead. It would not include the bulk of Spearfish Canyon north of Savoy.
Visitors passing through Spearfish Canyon on U.S. Highway 14 will continue to do so at no cost. South Dakotans can expect to see improved camping, hiking, fishing and sightseeing opportunities there, as well as upgraded restrooms, shower facilities and roads. Improved access would also be attentive to protecting the ecology and plants in these areas.
We’ve had numerous conversations with citizens, business leaders, elected officials and the Forest Service about this proposal, and if Congress approves the proposed land swap, we will continue to seek public input through a comprehensive master planning process. I especially appreciate the efforts of our congressional delegation — Sen. Thune, Sen. Rounds and Rep. Noem — to make this a reality.
Many South Dakotans have enjoyed our unrivaled state park system and experienced the thrill of our state’s majestic natural areas. Spearfish Canyon State Park would offer another opportunity for our citizens to experience this beauty and grandeur. I hope establishing this park ensures that my grandkids and their grandkids can share that authentic experience.