SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The public will help determine the fate of a state-owned airport in Custer State Park.
The South Dakota Game Fish and Parks is taking public comment over the next roughly 60 days about whether or not to repair the airport or close it. The airport needs an estimated $250,000 in short-term repairs and an estimated $2 million long term repairs, GFP deputy director Scott Simpson said at a recent GFP commission meeting.
“There’s not a lot of use. We see 50 to 75 recreational use pilots use the airport in any given year,” Simpson 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.
“Most of the people who use are like bush pilots…,” Hendrickson said. Those pilots fly smaller planes and like landing at airports like at the state park, he said.
He’s had pilots who fly into Custer County airport who tell him they flew into the state park the day before and camped, Hendrickson said.
The asphalt runway is 4,000 feet long and 50 feet wide, according to the SD DOT.
The airport is not manned and it does not offer fuel.
Sunny Stephens is the district 6 director for the South Dakota Pilots Association. As part of her director’s role in the West River part of the state, she regularly gathers flight data from airports and submits that to the association office. “I think I’ve made contact with the airport manager (at the state park) twice in 10 years,” Stephens said.
It’s difficult to determine how much use the state-owned airport gets, she said. Yet, “I haven’t heard there’s been a lot of use,” she said.
State-owned planes have flown into the state park. A state wildfire unit also used the state park airport. But, the use has changed.
Simpson said at the GFP meeting “We do not have a state function at the airport,” Simpson said. The wildland fire unit does not use the airport.
The South Dakota Air National Guard may still use the facility, Simpson said.
It, along with the South Dakota Pilots Association, would need to be contacted as part of the public comment period, Simpson said.
“It’s a hefty bill for an asset the state no longer uses,” Simpson said of the estimated $2.25 million in repairs.
Hendrickson said the operation of an airport is not cheap. The longer maintenance is deferred the more expensive it gets, he said.
“I’ve heard it’s in pretty rough shape,” Hendrickson said of the state park airport.
The state park airport is at a disadvantage because as a state-owned airport it can’t access federal aviation money for repairs and upgrades, Hendrickson said.
Simpson said at the commission meeting that while the state has money for airports, there is high demand from local airports.
Airport Guide and other airport sites said the airport opened in September of 1951.
“We’re not sure why it was put there,” Simpson said.
Hendrickson said although he knows the airport needs expensive repairs, “I hate to see it close up.”
He believes that would be the general sentiment of the aviation community. No one wants to lose an option or asset, he said.
Public comment will be part of the consideration for the GFP. The GFP would make a recommendation on the airport’s fate to the GFP commission. The commission would then send its decision to the SD DOT for the final decision, Simpson said.