Expanded entertainment venues and campgrounds tied to the Sturgis motorcycle rally have, over the years, inched closer to Bear Butte State Park and sometimes controversy. But the butte and rally are managing to co-exist in a relationship vulnerable to conflict.
The mountain looms above the prairie five miles northeast of Sturgis. But the rally rumbles past or edges up in all directions. Some rally-related developments have led to protests in the past by Native Americans seeking to preserve the spiritual nature of the mountain.
Managers at Bear Butte State Park work each summer to do just that, even as they accommodate visitors from the rally.
"What we do is we invite people to come out to the park, you know," district park supervisor Shannon Percy said. "And if they'd like to hike the mountain, then that's great. It's about a 1.8-mile hike to the summit from the education center."
So far that hike hasn't become a hot ticket at the rally. Most bikers just drive on by. And those who stop are often disappointed by the travel restrictions.
"What they'll do is they'll come up to the entrance and then figure out that they can't ride their Harleys to the top and decide that they're going to turn around and go back to the rally," Percy said.
The few who stay are asked to respect the quiet, stay on the trail and avoid areas reserved for Native Americans in prayer.
“This is their, basically, their outdoor church," Percy said. "So, you know, you want to tread lightly and respect what they're doing here, and experience the butte on your own."
Percy believes it's important that many of the Bear Butte State Park staff, led by manager Jim Jandreau, are Native Americans. They personally understand the needs of worshippers at the butte and are the best equipped to educate visitors.
But Percy admits that it’s asking a lot of most rally lovers to expect them to take time to understand the deep significant of Bear Butte and explore it on foot.
"They're out here to ride," he said. "They're not out here to hike."