PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A state official said Wednesday the general public hasn’t been allowed to tour or rent the historic Valhalla residence in Custer State Park for the past two years.
The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks stopped public availability at Valhalla after no one came for tours that were offered in 2017.
That’s according to Scott Simpson. He became director for the department’s Division of Parks and Recreation this year. Custer State Park is one of his responsibilities.
Simpson said then-Governor Dennis Daugaard and his family continued to use the rustic home last year.
U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck had Valhalla constructed during the late 1920s on land he leased from the park. The secluded get-away eventually came back into state government possession.
Governor Kristi Noem succeeded Daugaard in January. Recently she released names of seven people outside her family who took groups there this year. All seven work for her administration at some level.
The disclosures came in responses to Keloland requests for information.
Last year, no one other than Governor Dennis Daugaard and his extended family stayed at the secluded retreat. Members of the public had been allowed to visit and use the home earlier in his administration.
Mike Rounds, now a U.S. senator, preceded Daugaard as governor. Rounds, a Republican, wouldn’t publicly say who used Valhalla during his eight years as governor. That stirred some controversy.
Daugaard, a Republican and Rounds’ lieutenant governor, subsequently pledged during his 2010 campaign for governor that he would release names of those who stayed during his administration.
After the election, Democratic state lawmakers tried but couldn’t pass legislation in 2011 making information about visitors and rates a public record.
Daugaard’s spokesman at the time, Tony Venhuizen, said a state law wasn’t necessary but promised a state policy would be developed.
Norbeck had Valhalla built for his family and him to use. While governor Norbeck, a Republican, had led the effort to establish Custer State Park.
Simpson, the current parks director, responded to Keloland questions in a series of emails
“The last year GFP provided public tours was 2017. GFP scheduled dates and times in 2017 when staff would be present, however there was no participation from the public,” Simpson said.
“Due to this lack of interest, GFP ceased offering this scheduled opportunity after consultation with First Lady Linda Daugaard,” Simpson continued. He added, “Last year Governor Daugaard and the First Lady were the only ones who used Valhalla, so no list of external use exists.”
The seven people from Noem’s Republican administration who used Valhalla this year were:
Bailey Carlsen and guests. She is a deputy policy adviser to the governor.
Liza Clark and guests. She is state finance and management commissioner.
Jake Monssen and guests. He is special projects coordinator for the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
Donna Morlock and guests. She works at the state Bureau of Administration.
Larry Rhoden and guests. He is lieutenant governor and state Senate president.
Joshua Shields and guests. The governor recently promoted him to her chief of staff.
Jim Terwilliger and guests. He is state secretary of revenue.
In 2011 Daugaard wrote a column titled “Openness” that said Valhalla would be available for public use at a daily rate of $200, including for him.
“Making Valhalla available for rent as a public meeting space was discontinued at the same time as the public tours. In both cases, lack of public interest led to this decision,” Simpson said.