Sunday, November 13, 2016

Why Do We Need To Turn Spearfish Canyon Into A South Dakota State Park?

     Turning a beautiful hunk of federally owned land in Spearfish Canyon into a South Dakota State Park is a bad idea both in terms of the end result and the means by which the deal 
Roughlock Falls
This Ain't Grazing Land
 is being developed. The ride through Spearfish Canyon is on a road (Hwy 14A) that is officially designated as a "scenic byway" by both the U.S. and South Dakota governments, and with good reason.  It's gorgeous. Tourists love it as much as we locals do, and one of the best parts of the experience is the fact that it doesn't have any entrance fees.  According to a list of FAQs answered by SD's Game, Fish, and Parks Department last September 30, that won't change with respect to people driving through on 14A. However, people who want to get off the road for a day and use the 1600 acre segment that gives access to some of the premier assets (Roughlock Falls, Spearfish Falls and all that incredibly beautiful country in between) of the canyon will be in for a surprise.  After takeover and management by the State of South Dakota they can expect to pay what GF&P refers to as "potential fees," as yet to be determined.
     Having had interests in the local tourist biz for many years, I'm a little skeptical about how well this will sit with our out-of-state visitors.  They'll continue to follow the justifiably seductive literature promoting the scenic byway, only to find that when they want to stop at the most pristine point of the trek they'll have to fork over that yet-to-be-determined fee. The unknown fee would also apply to locals.  For context, consider that Custer State Park charges $20 dollars/car for a 7-day pass, Bear Butte charges $6/day. GF&P would do us all a favor by posting what it expects to charge for Spearfish Canyon so that the discussion has a focal point to it.  Meantime, I'm plenty familiar with tourists grousing about entrance fees and don't look forward to hearing people complain about this one.
      And speaking of focal points, what's the deal with swapping state range land at its agricultural value for federal land in Spearfish Canyon assessed at the same use-value?  GF&P
Great For Livestock
Tourists, Not So Much
says that "agricultural value makes sense because it is the best representation of how this land will be used." To which I can only say, "what!?"  That is complete baloney.  Since when does that land in Spearfish Canyon have even the remotest potential for agricultural use?  A bill facilitating this transfer (along with some federal land near Custer around Bismarck Lake) has provisions to ensure a transfer at fair value, but the starting point of arbitrarily creating equivalence between grazing land and Spearfish Canyon doesn't make much sense.  GF&P does a good job at Custer State Park, and I'm sure they'd run Spearfish Canyon well.  But the compelling question is, why do we want to make this change in the first place? We need to see more in the way of projected costs, fees, revenues and a fair comparison of land values before this idea moves forward.  

Addendum from Spearfish Canyon resident Jim Nelson:

Response to Tsitrian Blog re Spearfish Canyon State Park
By: Jim Nelson, Member and Past President of the Spearfish Canyon Owners Assn.

Sir: I am a resident of Spearfish and also an owner/resident of a summer cabin in Spearfish Canyon. I read your blog of Sunday, 13 November in the Rapid City Journal, regarding whether we really need to turn the Canyon into a State Park.
I grew up in Lead, graduating from HS there in 1947, and have fished, hiked, enjoyed the Canyon since old enough to do so, beginning in the 1930’s. I graduated from Yankton College in 1951, during the Korean conflict, entered US Air Force Aviation Cadets and eventually served 31+ years in the US Air Force, retired and worked 10 years for General Electric Aircraft Engines, retired again and later did some consulting work for USAF regarding aircraft engines ownership and management issues. My wife is a 1949 graduate of Spearfish HS and SDSU, 1953. We were able to purchase a cabin in the Canyon in 1987 and subsequently the lot in 1990-1 as Homestake offered the owners the opportunity to buy the land as part of the Homestake/USFS Land Exchange of those years. I served on the Spearfish Canyon Owners Association(SCOA) Board for 9 years, 6 years as Board President(2002-2011).

I am glad to see articles such as yours appear, questioning the need for the State Park in the Canyon. First, let me correct what you may not understand as I read your article. Highway 14A through the Canyon is a National Forest Scenic Byway and a SD State Scenic Byway…it is NOT a National Scenic Byway, such classification being rejected by a Corridor Management Plan(CMP) group convened by the USFS back in 1990 to address how to manage the Canyon with the then-pending sale/transfer of lands by Homestake as they shut down their gold mining operations in Lead and the Black Hills. The National Scenic Byway designation was considered but not applied for, due to the CMP group determining that the Canyon was well-enough known at the time, did not need further national exposure since the Canyon travel/visitation was already high and growing and would continue to grow as the Black Hills became a destination of growing popularity. Thus, the decision was to continue it as National Forest
and  State Scenic Byways.

The CMP was not published as a USFS document, but was printed by USFS as a local report for the participants to use as a guideline for the management of the Canyon, which has been done for almost 30 years now. That CMP group included all the stakeholders in assuming the increased responsibilities for attaining the goal of keeping the Canyon as natural as possible, avoiding commercial developments in the Canyon(beyond those existing such as Cheyenne Crossing Store, Wickiup Campground, Latchstring Inn, Rimrock facilities). Homestake, in their sale of the lots/properties they owned in the Canyon, required the owners to form an Owners Association with very strict Covenants and tasked them to maintain those lots as Homestake had done for a hundred years. Those Covenants are attached to each deed in perpetuity and the owners must belong to the Association. These Covenants, subsequent Articles of Incorporation(filed with the State), By-Laws, Architectural Guidelines were all formed at that time of SCOA formation and Homestake retained two Board membership positions to assure smooth transfer. All these documents are available for review on the SCOA website, Spearfish Canyon Owners  The CMP group, convened by USFS, included all the significant stakeholders involved with the Canyon, including Homestake, SCOA, USFS, Spearfish Canyon Foundation, Lawrence County Commission, chambers of commerce for Lead, Deadwood, Spearfish, and SD DOT, DENR, and GF&P, as well as a few other organizations active in the Canyon at that time. In addition to the scenic highway designations, the group considered and made recommendations to restrict further development in the Canyon with the goal of keeping it as natural as possible. These restricted camping, open fires, off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, signage, speed limits, and recommended no further trail development on the Canyon floor, but connector trails to those on the rim. Homestake had stipulations that the Canyon should remain open to the public with no fees for its access. Access to Spearfish Creek(for fishing, recreational activities) was also assured. Details are available in the CMP and cover the activities/conditions that should be allowed/limited to preserve the Canyon’s unique beauty, serenity, and the waters of Spearfish Creek and its tributaries.

In 2004, when Governor Rounds proposed that the State purchase five parcels of land in the Canyon that Homestake had held onto in the 1990 Land Exchange for future sale, but only under their conditions. SCOA supported that sale after the then-Secretary of GF&P Cooper came to Spearfish in 2006, gave an open-to-the-public briefing on how the State would buy those parcels and comply with the Homestake conditions of sale, e.g., remain open to the public with no fees for access. Those parcels included the Savoy and Little Spearfish intakes on Spearfish Creek and Little Spearfish Creek(with dams), respectively, Roughlock Falls, and the to-be-negotiated-later Spearfish Falls. Management would be by GF&P. This model has been pursued with the support of SCOA,USFS and LCC as the dam at Savoy was removed and the step pools installed, the dam at Little Spearfish was removed and replaced by a fishing pool, and Roughlock Falls was cleaned up, trails restructured, picnic grounds restored, with viewing decks installed. All this has been done by GF&P while managing all as Nature Areas. Now, as negotiations have been completed to acquire Spearfish Falls, the Governor announced last December that all these parcels would be combined as a State Park, but with significant added land area, currently owned by USFS, to be acquired through another land exchange. Essentially all of Little Spearfish Canyon up to Timon Campground and some acreage in the main Canyon between Savoy and the Savoy pond would be added. SCOA submitted a letter with attachments to the Governor in February, essentially expressing concern with this expansion, and recommending the Governor reconvene the CMP group(with appropriate stakeholders) to assess the State Park concept and how it would impact the prior issues/concerns regarding keeping the Canyon as natural as possible while dealing with the significantly increased traffic/usage of the Canyon since the 1990 report. That letter was never answered or even acknowledged. Subsequently, SCOA has written an open letter to the Governor, published recently in the BLACK HILLS PIONEER and THE SIOUX Falls ARGUS LEADER. The letter was also submitted to the RC JOURNAL, but, as yet, it has not been published in the latter paper.

The point is made that even though SCOA is second only to USFS as the largest stakeholder in the Canyon, no member of the State government has contacted that organization or shown interest in what the LOCAL stakeholders or the public may think about the initiative for the State Park in the Canyon.

Jim Nelson
15 November 2016


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