HILL CITY, S.D. (KELO) — Places across South Dakota are gearing up for the 2021 tourism season. While last year brought challenges to some businesses and parks, those in the tourism industry remain hopeful.

Rain or shine, tourism season in the Black Hills is approaching, and businesses like the 1880 Train are getting ready.

“We’ve got crews hard at work both in the locomotive shop here, the railcar restoration shop and then in our gift shops, depots, that are all getting ready for opening season. So lots of merchandise coming in, lots of maintenance and repair on the locomotives and we are all excited for a May 15th opening deadline,” Nathan Anderson, Business Operations Manager for 1880 Train, said.

Nathan Anderson is a manager for the 1880 train. He says 2020 introduced some major changes due to COVID-19.

“This year, we are approaching it very similarly. We are taking evasive precautions for COVID. You will see our staff masked up when you are facing them on the train and in the depots. We’ve installed additional cleaning, sanatizing controls and hand sanitizers, things like that,” Anderson said.

Anderson is also optimistic for the upcoming tourism season.

“Excited, very busy season, and excited to kick it off here in a few weeks,” Anderson said.

Mangiamo’s Wood Fired Pizza is a newer business in the area. It opened up last Fall amidst the global pandemic.

“We purposely started during the slow season so we could get all the processes down. And starting up during a global pandemic, we started doing universal precautions, all CDC recommended precautions all the time so now coming into it, it’s just kind of the way we do business,” Debrah Leatherman, owner, said.

While Russell and Debrah Leatherman have not yet experienced the busy tourism season, they feel they are ready for whatever it brings.

“We welcome anyone to come to Hill City and just check out the town and if you want to have a slice of pizza, a glass of wine, come on over to Mangiamo’s and we’ll take care of ya,”

Many other businesses including Granite Sports, The State Railroad museum, and Sodak Clothing are ready to open their doors to tourists, with health precautions in place.

“We’re grateful for those precautions and everyone is encouraged to take personal responsibility,” Wetovick Billy said.

Janet Wetovick Billy is the Director of the Hill City Chamber of Commerce. She says even with the pandemic, last year’s revenue ended up being similar to previous years.

“Last year’s tourism season was like none other that we’ve ever seen before with the interruption of COVID starting early in the spring we were all preparing getting ready to go and then of course we had to put the breaks on things,” Wetovick Billy.

Wetovick Billy says some businesses did very well and others really struggled.
However, expectations for the 2021 tourism season are high.

“The reports that we are hearing from our lodging partners is that they are booked, booking is strong. We’ve already seen a wonderful uptick in our traffic here at the visitor’s center and in town so we are expecting a continued record year, banner year, and that’s the report we are getting from our partners,” Wetovick Bill said.

It won’t be much longer before they find out whether those predictions are true.

The Hill City Chamber and businesses in town are also planning for summer events.