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August 02, 2016 10:40 PM

Spearfish Canyon Could Be Home To New State Park

Spearfish

It's a must-see point of interest for "Dances With Wolves" fans like Dan Van Sickle. Only he and his wife almost missed the movie location above Roughlock Falls.

"We drove through this beautiful site and then just about drove by it. But we were able to see that something was happening because you were here," he said.

That something was the site of a key scene in the movie. Only you wouldn't know it by the easy-to-overlook sign.

"I didn't know which way to look. I figured it was over there beyond me, who knows?" Van Sickle said. "It would be nice to know how long the filming was here, or what scenes were at this spot. That would be interesting to see."

An interpretive sign at the movie site is a tiny part of a much larger plan to consolidate state park land around Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Falls with lightly-managed U.S. Forest Service property.

Federal legislation by the state's congressional delegation would authorize a land swap between the state and the U.S. Forest Service to create the 1,600-acre Spearfish Canyon State Park.

It would make Spearfish Falls — a state-owned feature midway up the federal scenic byway through the canyon — a more prominent and visited part of the canyon experience.

"It's spectacular," says Gov. Dennis Daugaard. "You don't see it unless you go look for it. You don't see it just driving through Spearfish Canyon. You have to be aware that it's there and go look for it. And when you find it, it's a sight to behold."

It's a sight Daugaard says more visitors will enjoy, if his dream for Spearfish Canyon State Park becomes reality.

"We're hoping the legislation will pass this year, hopefully by the end of the calendar year, in this Congress, and that the president will sign it," Daugaard says.

Congressional approval is needed to swap about 1,400 acres of Forest Service land, including two small campgrounds, for state land out on the prairie.

"But there will be an environmental study, and that's going to take some time," Daugaard said.

That study will allow an airing of concerns about the land swap and the new park.

Some critics of the plan worry about the effects of park development, including expanded and improved campgrounds, on the environment and wildlife.

Deer and elk are among the wildlife species using the area and adding to the experience. State regional parks supervisor Matt Snyder says the plan would limit impacts.

"At the end of the day, it's all about enhancing what's here with the theme of preservation in mind," Snyder said. "I mean, it's a state park, so we're not looking to overdevelop the area."

Others worry about entrance fees. While fees wouldn't be charged to people driving up the canyon on the scenic byway, fees could be charged at the new park off that main route.

Snyder contends the park plan, which should begin taking shape in the coming months, will allow more visitors with less environmental impacts. That's already being done at Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Falls.

"We've come in and we've designated trails," Snyder said. "we've improved those trails and created those corridors for people to walk on and stay on, so they're not just out trampling through the vegetation and wherever they want to go."

A lawsuit over an existing travel easement to a private property owner near Spearfish Falls complicates the development. But the state has finished trail work and a new bridge to the falls from the Latchstring Inn at Savoy. Along with congressional approval, the park plan needs an OK from the state legislature.

If approved, the park is still a couple years, or more, away.

"The park may not officially be created while I'm governor. But hopefully we'll get the process far enough along that it will happen shortly thereafter," Daugaard said. "And maybe before I'm done as governor, too."
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