SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The airport license for Custer State Park will be allowed to lapse at the end of the year.
But, that may not be the end of the flights as a GFP official said he wants to continue talking with two groups about possible non-GFP options for the state-owned airport.
The South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Commission approved on Oct. 5 a department recommendation to allow the airport license to lapse. The decision effectively closes the airport, said Jeff VanMeeteren, the director of parks and recreation for the GFP.
“We’ve thought about this, we’ve looked at options…we don’t see where the department should be funding repairs…,” GFP’s director of parks and recreation Jeff VanMeeteren said at the Oct. 5 GFP commission meeting.
GFP commission Robert Whitmyre said it would not be appropriate to pay for needed runway repairs and upgrades with camper and user fees from the state park.
Although supporters of maintaining the park’s airport said they fly in and camp at the park, “the primitive camping fee is $15 (a day). We’d need 600 night stays just to pay for the annual maintenance,” Van Meeteren said.
The GFP does not want to pay for an estimated $250,000 in repairs in the near future or an estimated $2 million upgrade to the 1986 asphalt runway, but the South Dakota Pilots Association and the Recreation Aviation Foundation (RAF) want to talk about possible options, VanMeeteren said.
“I’m committed to sitting down with both groups after this…,” VanMeeteren said.
Some supporters have suggested the asphalt runway be converted to grass to allow for continued use. Others stressed the importance of it for recreational flyers, which they said is a growing group. If the airport was marketed well, it could draw more pilots who want to fly in and camp or hike in the park, and that would be of economic benefit to the state, some supporters said.
The airport is not of any use to state planes, VanMeeteren said, which is one of the main reasons it was built in 1950. The state’s wildland fire fighting group does not use the airport. The state’s National Guard uses it for helicopters, but the Guard uses other spots in the park as well, VanMeeteren said.
The GFP took public comment on the airport’s future for 60 days. The comment period was required for a decommissioning of the airport, but the GFP chose a different option.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation suggested allowing the license to expire, VanMeeteren said.
“The first thing we have to do is notify the DOT this is our intent (licensure lapse),” VanMeeteren said. The SD DOT would not inspect the airport this year and the FAA would need to be notified. VanMeeteren said notifications of the GFP’s closure of the airport would happen around the end of this year.
The GFP plans to remove the damaged hangar and some other outbuildings and to remove the asphalt runway as well. At least some of the work would not happen until next year, VanMeeteren said.