SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Faulkton mayor Slade Roseland was busy with calving but he took a short break one morning to talk about the importance of tourism in his city.

“I love to talk about tourism. It’s important,” Roseland said.

“This past summer, the world opened up…and we definitely had an uptick in tourism through our town,” Roseland said.

Faulkton is Faulk County on U.S. Highway 212. It sits in the thick of pheasant hunting country but the there’s more than pheasants that attract tourists.

The city is also noted for the elevator mural painted by artist Guido van Helten in 2018.

“They stop to see the mural after hearing about it or reading about it,” Roseland said.

The mural on the elevator in Faulkton. Mural photo from the city’s website.

The mural is one of the gems that visitors can find when they travel off the beaten path, said Katlyn Svendsen, the global media and public relations director for the South Dakota Department of Tourism.

The mural is one of the features included in a passport program sponsored by state tourism.

“Almost 200 towns” are included in the passport program, Svendsen said.

The passport program encourages to visit features across the state, Svendsen said. The list includes murals, historic buildings, diners as well as state parks. The visitor earns a point for each site visited and those points quality them for various prizes.

Visitors are already making some effort to visit sites that may not be high on the tourist radar.

Visitor spending in South Dakota reached a record high of $4.4 billion, according to state tourism. While Pennington, Minnehaha and Lawrence were among the counties that had the highest levels of spending, more rural counties also did well.

The state said 43 counties surpassed pre-pandemic levels of visitor spending.

Visitor spending reached $1.8 million in 2021 in Faulk County, where Faulkton is. That was a 9.1% increase over last year, according to the state.

Gas, coffee and straw bales

Heather Johnson owns Sweet Grass, an eatery, bakery and coffee shop in Wessington Springs. The town is along South Dakota Highway 34 in Jerauld County.

Tourism spending reached  $795,558 in Jerauld County in 2021

Visitor spending is important to her business, Johnson said. “It’s a major factor in our business,” Johnson said.

Johnson worked with the local chamber and economic development on the “Discover More on Highway 34” campaign that encouraged in-state and out-of-state residents to travel on the state highway to visits towns along the route.

Johnson noticed an uptick in visitors in 2021. “A little more than we would have seen without the campaign,” she said.

Svendsen said marketing campaigns such as “Discover More on Highway 34” fit in with the state tourism’s plan to encourage people to visit small towns.

There’s a state recreational area campground at Lake Carthage, not far from The Campbell Straw Built Museum.

Museum board secretary Lorelee Nelson said that the campground and the city’s campground were busy in 2021.

That’s good for the city and the museum, she said. Campers participated in fund-raising events such as a pie and coffee event and they visited the museum.

The museum also drew visitors who didn’t camp.

“It’s built of straw bales. It’s unique,” Nelson said of the museum.

The museum will be part of the state tourism’s passport program, Nelson said.

The Straw Built Museum in Carthage. South Dakota Tourism photo.

Tourism spending was up 129% in Miner County which includes the town of Carthage. Spending reached $1.5 million.

Carthage was the recipient of some of that spending through camping fees, museum spending and other spending.

“The town has two cafes and a gas station. (Visitors) patronize those businesses,” Nelson said.

Cement and brick in Ipswich

Each week, three or four visitors stop Ipswich to look at the cement and brick buildings such as the town library and J.W. Parmley Museum, said Mayor LeRoy Kilber.

The town also has an arch made of cement and brick.

The arch in Ipswich. South Dakota Department of Tourism photo.

Ipswich is in Edmunds County which had about $1 million in visitor spending in 2021, according to state tourism. That’s a 34.5% increase over 2020.

Pheasant hunting may be the biggest draw but South Dakota Tourism thinks the cement and brick structures and the history of U.S. Highway 12 are other reasons to visit Ipswich and the county.

The state lists highlights of the The Yellowstone Trail on Highway 12 on the state tourism website.

Kilber said he and his wife are senior citizens and they enjoy traveling the off roads. Younger travelers may be in more of a hurry to get to a specific destination.

Why would someone from out of state stop here?

Svendsen said there is a market for travelers who want what small towns and two-lane highways can offer in South Dakota.

Roseland said motorcycles on their way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will stop in Faulkton on their way to Sturgis. “It’s something I’ve seen since I was a kid,” he said.

Now, the travelers include people on family vacations, “we’re seeing people us (Highway 212) as a route to the Black Hills,” Roseland said.

The tourism department has a plan to market the features of small towns and two-lane highways to out-of-state residents, she said.

While it is important to keep attracting visitors to state parks and national parks and sites it’s also important to attract visitors to other spots, Svendsen said.

It’s part of sustainable tourism, she said. The state can provide a balance between busy parks and attractions and others that offer smaller crowds.

So far, no visitor needs a ticket for specific time to visit National Park attractions in South Dakota.

“We don’t want to get there either,” Svendsen said. Over the next three to five years, state tourism will focus on “protecting resources” while also encouraging more visitors, she said.

Visit Custer State Park or Mount Rushmore but if it’s really busy, then there are campgrounds, state parks and other attractions to see that are nearby, Svendsen said.

Harding County, north of the Black Hills, has Custer National Forest, Cave Hills and other natural attractions. That’s just one example.

Visitors in southeastern South Dakota may tend to think only of Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area in Yankton but it’s a busy state park. If a campground is not available there, there are “so much more opportunities for recreation…,” Svendsen said.

That includes recreation areas near Platte.

Representatives of several communities said they will continue to market their attractions as well as working with the state tourism office.

Roseland said Faulkton has “worked with South Dakota tourism a lot…”

“If they target that type of people that want to take the time (while traveling), that would be great…,” Kilber said.