RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — For 85 years, Reptile Gardens in Rapid City has seen millions of people walk through its door.
It’s your typical March weather out here in the Black Hills.. but that’s not stopping guests from visiting Reptile Gardens.
Gabriel Michaloski, his wife Jennifer, and their son Mark braved the snow to be one of the first visitors of the year.
“We thought rain or shine we’re doing this. We are going to Reptile Gardens, we’re going to check it out. And this little guy hasn’t been here yet either so it’s going to be a good time,” Gabriel Michaloski said.
This is Mark and Gabriel’s first time visiting the gardens, and you can see the excitement on their faces.
“Spiders!” Mark Michaloski said.
“We’ve been driving past this for so long, going out to the hills, going out to Mount Rushmore and every time we’d look by, we’d say, ‘someday, someday we’ll see it.'” Gabriel said.
“Yeah, super excited to see it and hopefully, it will be the first of a lot of times this summer,” Jennifer said.
Reptile Gardens bring in over a million visitors each year. Barbara Mullally works ticket sales.
“At the time when I started, I was a teacher and so I would work my summer vacations here at Reptile Gardens and I enjoy visiting with people, meeting people from all over the country, literally. And so this has been an ideal job for me,” Mullally said.
She’s been working at the attraction for over 30 years and says it’s getting more popular each year.
“We are busy, especially last year was a busy year for us,” Mullally said.
From snakes and spiders to alligators and lizards, this Rapid City staple has been catching people’s attention since 1937.
It was founded by Earl Brockelsby and continues to be run by family members, including his nephew, Joe Maierhauser.
“Well back in the 30s, my uncle was running tours at a place up the hill called ‘Hidden City.’ He’d always been fascinated by reptiles, grew up in Kadoka where there was a lot of snakes and he even had a pet rattlesnake. Which he would coil up on the top of his head and put his hat on and then at the end of the tour of this place, he would doth his hat for all the tourists and of course, they went wild,” Maierhauser said.
And from that, Brockelsby decided to create Reptile Gardens. Maierhauser has worked here for nearly his whole life.
“I was born into this business. It’s a family business and so my mother was here on opening day in 1937 with her brother Early who started the business and I’m here today,” Maierhauser said.
Over the decades, Maierhauser has seen Reptile Gardens move, shift and grow in ways he’s never thought possible. Including last year’s foot traffic.
“Well last year was an anomaly. Originally we were back towards town, above Rapid City on the hill. When they moved the highway in the early 60s, we moved down here and opened this place in 1965 and it gave us a lot more acreage, a lot more room to expand and we just continue to expand year after year. We’ve just become a destination now,” Maierhauser said.
As the business gets busier, Maierhauser hopes to continue seeing visitors, like the Michaloskis, continue to come back each year.
“To watch it grow, it’s very gratifying and the fact that so many people love what we do, it feels really good to our family,” Maierhauser said.
And so Maierhauser’s Uncle Earl, can be proud of the Rapid City relic that will stick around for many years to come.
Reptile Gardens opened for the season on March 5th. It closes for the winter on November 30th.