SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The public is providing feedback on the future of the state-owned airport at Custer State Park including suggestions for keeping it, Game Fish and Parks Commission chairwoman Stephanie Rissler said at the Sept. 8 commission meeting.

Suggestions include charging a fee for pilots who use the airport and converting the airport to a grass runway Rissler said.

The GFP has considered a grass runway but, the main reasons for considering closing the airport would still exist, said Jeff VanMeeteren, the director of the GFP division of Parks and Recreation.

“A grass runway is an option (that could be looked at),” VanMeeteren said. “But we’d still need to maintain it. There would be no night flying…” A grass runway could limit use to only aircraft with larger wheels. The GFP would need to maintain a fence that keeps wildlife from the runway, he said.

He also cited the four reasons the GFP is considering the decommissioning of the airport: Only 50 to 75 pilots use it a year, no state-owned aircraft use it, immediate and long-term repairs would cost an estimated $2.25 million to $3.25 million and there are suitable options nearby.

The GFP has been taking public comments on the future of the state park airport since early August. The comment period will end on Sept. 29. The GFP would then make a recommendation to the commission on the future of the airport.

“We’ve moved from a need-to-have basis to a nice-to-have basis,” VanMeeteren said of the airport.

GPF commissioner Jon Locken asked what would happen if the state park airport was not decommissioned.

VanMeeteren said the GFP could go through a process with the South Dakota Department of Transportation’s aeronautical division which would close it.

“The other thing is to let the license lapse and not renew it,” VanMeeteren said.

GFP commissioner Jim White asked about future liability of an unattended airport.

He’s not aware of any insurance, VanMeeteren said. Like most state property, it would be self-insured.

Commissioner Robert Whitmyre had questions about the past history. The Custer County airport is an option now but was it as good of an option when the state park airport was built, he asked. He was also curious about the requirements in place when the state park airport was built.

VanMeeteren said he was not certain about the Custer County airport but would find out.

When the Custer State Park airport was built, the state wildland fire agency was a “huge consideration,” he said. The South Dakota National Guard also used the airport for many years, he said.

The state-owned airport may not get used as much as others, but it’s popular with pilots who do use it, said Brenden Hendrickson, the manager of the nearby Custer County Airport, in an Aug. 4 KELOLAND News story. Hendrickson said he also knows maintenance is expensive and the state-owned airport would not qualify for federal funds for repairs.

Airport Guide and other airport sites said the airport opened in September of 1951.

The asphalt runway is 4,000 feet long and 50 feet wide, according to the SDDOT.

There are no services at the airport. VanMeeteren said an airport hanger was damaged by high winds several years ago.