South Dakota saw fewer campers at state parks

Capitol News Bureau

CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. (KELO) — Sometimes you really can blame the weather: Fewer campers have used South Dakota’s state parks and recreation areas this year.

“We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature on this one,” Scott Simpson told state Game, Fish and Parks Commission members Friday.

He is director for the state Division of Parks and Recreation.

Revenue from camping services totaled $8,304,189 through September. That’s down from $8,778,521 at the same point last year.

Visitor revenue was lower too. $7,406,966 this year, versus $7,654,022 a year ago through September.

Simpson said a wet spring, rainy weekends and a rash of flood-level downpours in September all contributed.

“We’re hanging on the best we can,” he said. “Not great news right now, but we’re about through our camping season. It will allow us to scratch our chins over the winter and see where we might do better next year.”

Two regional supervisors for the parks system, Jeff VanMeeteren of Yankton and Willy Collignon of Watertown, showed commissioners slides and video from the past month at some spots in eastern South Dakota.

Collignon talked about Lake Herman State Park near Madison that had reopened earlier in the week. In one picture he noted a bright spot amid the water: It was a submerged picnic table.

“We were able to float the boat right over the top of it,” Collignon said.

He showed how sand drifts built up at Lake Thompson Recreation Area west of Brookings. He said staff there are concerned about a section of water-covered road freezing into the lake. 

VanMeeteren talked about Lake Vermillion Recreation Area’s flooded entrance road. On the screen, a video showed water broke through the dam, took about 300 feet of road out and gushed into the Vermillion River.

Big Sioux Recreation Area at Brandon was flooded for the second time this year. VanMeeteren said water was the highest there since 1969. The suspension bridge hikers use to cross the Big Sioux River received significant damage for the first time since the 1990s and all the trails remain under water.

The spillway lakeside use area below Fort Randall Dam lost a road in 2011 and is going to lose it again, with the riprap already gone, VanMeeteren said.

The Platte Creek Recreation Area entrance road has dropped six to eight inches and shifted. Buryanek Recreation Area near Snake Creek blew out for the second time.

“We’ve never seen these historic levels of damage before so it’s a learning curve for us,” he said.

Commissioner Doug Sharp of Watertown asked about whether box culverts should be added at some washouts.

“I wouldn’t rule it out at this point,” Vanmeeteren answered. “We’ve never had that issue in the past.”

Replied Sharp, “Eventually a box culvert might really be on par with repairing the road two, three times in the future.”

“I think that’s a real option in some of these areas,” Sharp added. “It’s obvious you really have your hands full.”

“Extraordinary efforts,” commission chairman Gary Jensen of Rapid City said. 

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