SIOUX FALLS, SD -
With the power of vote and the signature of a pen, South Dakota lawmakers and Governor Dennis Daugaard created the state's 13th state park last March. Since that time, Good Earth State Park at Blood Run just southeast of Sioux Falls has been taking shape.
The amenities are basic. There are portable toilets, gravel roads and a water fountain. That might seem a bit primitive, and that's exactly the point. The 600-acre retreat is only about 10 miles southeast of downtown Sioux Falls, but the landscapes of the two are worlds apart.
Vander Stouwe says this area has become better known since Governor Dennis Daugaard held a ceremony at the park in July.
"Since then we've operated more as a state park, before then we operated more like a nature area," Vander Stouwe said.
That means some changes have already come about on the ground. But yet, this shouldn't be thought of as your typical state park. In fact, you won't find a campground here, just native trees and grasses.
"We have about three miles of trails that are primitive in nature. Some are dressed with some wood chips and so forth but it gets people out into the fun of this great site," Vander Stouwe said.
Although deer and turkeys can be quite elusive, visitors are finding some wildlife to watch. Thanks to the Sioux Falls bird club, the feeders make it easy to catch a peek at some feathered friends.
"The way it sounds, they're very impressed with all the different species of birds that are coming through, including even bald eagles they've been seeing down by the river," Vander Stouwe said.
Those who visit Good Earth and take in the wonders of nature are already finding the park has a lot to offer. One of the most popular spots in the park brings you right to the Big Sioux River for a bird's eye view.
"There's one view that's actually about a three story drop where you look right down on the river. It is one of the more sought out areas to see of the park," Vander Stouwe said.
The land on the other side of the Big Sioux River is the state of Iowa. South Dakota officials plan to work very closely with those in the Hawkeye State and could eventually build two similar parks connected by bridges. That's just one of the potentials in the parks' long-term master plan. State crews have already started working on a 40-acre plot in the park that was farmland until a few years ago. Now, it's been replanted with native grasses and flowers.
"It will take a few years for it to really resemble what it did up to 200 years ago, but with a little patience, two or three years, maybe four, it will looks like it once did," Vander Stouwe said.
State officials say they are also carefully considering input from Native Americans whose ancestors lived on this fertile land hundreds of years ago. Their knowledge is just one factor that will be considered as information kiosks and a visitor center are planned and constructed.
"That will be one of the key facilities here at the park. But then again, the park speaks for itself. If we have a visitor center or not, the park will be popular the way it is," Vander Stouwe said.
Which is why Good Earth is off to a good start, even if this isn't what you picture when you think about a state park.
"It is not going to be your typical South Dakota state park. I guess, personally, I see it more of an outdoor learning center similar to an outdoor campus in Sioux Falls," Vander Stouwe said.
Architects are now working on plans to develop more trails suitable for those with all types of hiking abilities. Eventually, lookout platforms will give visitors and even better overview of the area.
It's believed the name Blood Run comes from early European settlers who names a nearby creek "Blood Run" because of the reddish color created by iron in the water. The name "Good Earth" was suggested to give a better reflection of the areas peaceful history.
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