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With President Theodore Roosevelt’s signature, Wind Cave became the nation’s eighth national park. It was also the first national park established to protected a cave.

Wind Cave is sacred to many indigenous tribes in the region, including the Lakota people who deem Wind Cave as their place of creation. The Lakota people believe they are descendants of the Buffalo Nation who emerged from the cave. The first individual to emerge from the cave learned the traditional Lakota way of life and returned into the cave to tell his nation about  the surface of the earth. Once everyone emerged, they found they were unable to return to the cave and so they began life anew and established the Seven Council Fires.

While several mining claims occurred at Wind Cave, one of the most noteworthy was made by the South Dakota Mining Company. In 1890, J.D. MacDonald set out to explore the cave in hopes of mining it, but his efforts were unsuccessful. However, MacDonald was not without vision for the cave. He recognized the ability to provide tours of the cave and selling pieces of formations from it.

After filing a homesteading claim for the land, the MacDonald family devoted his time to creating a larger entrance to the cave while his son Alvin, explored the cave, mapping his explorations in a diary. By January of 1891, Alvin MacDonald had abandoned his efforts to find the end of Wind Cave.

In 1893, the MacDonalds joined forces with John Stabler and formed the Wonderful Wind Cave Company. Following the untimely death of Alvin MacDonald, however, the relationship between the MacDonalds and Stablers soured. When their concerns reached the Department of Interior, the agency ruled that since no actual mining had occurred in land held by a mining claim, neither party had a claim to the land. Taking the land out of homesteading status allowed for it to be placed into the protection of the federal government ten years later.

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The Legion Lake Fire in Custer State Park is now the third largest wildfire in the Black Hills, according to the Rapid City Journal and Black Hills National Forest records. Wildfire records for the area began in 1910.

The Legion Lake Fire began on December 11 and grew from 4,000 acres on December 12 to 35,000 acres by the morning of December 13 due to winds that swept across the region. By December 14, the fire had gone across 47,500 acres and was 10 percent contained.

The largest recorded fire in Black Hills was the Jasper Fire, located west of Custer, SD. The fire blazed across 83,510 acres in the year 2000. The second largest fire was Oil Creek Fire in 2012, occurring northwest of Newcastle, Wyoming.

To read more about wildfires in the Black Hills region, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive.

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Custer State Park auctioned off 265 bison at their annual auction, according to KOTA News. The herd of 880 is slightly smaller this year due to drought conditions. The herd was intentionally kept smaller in order to ensure enough vegetation was available to sustain the herd throughout the winter months.

The park aims to have a herd population of 960 going into the winter. Approximately 450 female bison are pregnant, indicating there will be a surplus next spring.

Visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive to learn more about Custer State Park.

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Two lakes in Custer State Park have officially reopened for the safe use of swimmers following concerns regarding E. coli levels, reports KOTA News. Sylvan and Stockade Lakes were temporarily closed to swimmers when high levels of E. coli were detected, but remained open to boaters and fishermen.

The lakes are tested by park officials weekly in order to determine potential safety concerns for swimmers.

To read more news about Custer State Park, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive.

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Wildlife officials from Wind Cave National Park are reporting progress in efforts to cull the elk population in the park, reports the Black Hills Pioneer. To date, an estimated 175 elk have been killed. Approximately 525-550 elk were in the park prior to the cull, and officials hope to reduce the number to 230-250 total elk.

This year is the first in which wildlife outside of the park have been prevented from entering the park during the cull. High fences were installed as a deterrent. Officials hope that the final count will be more accurate as a result.

Wildlife scientists hope to reduce the occurrence of Chronic Wasting Disease through culling efforts. Experts will follow the elk herd in coming years to determine if the reduction in population had a positive effect on the rate of the disease.

To read more news about Wind Cave National Park, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive

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The City of Custer is considering revisions to its snow removal ordinance, reports the Custer County Chronicle. The ordinance was not strictly enforced following a snowstorm with temperatures dropping well below zero

Under the city’s snow removal ordinance, city businesses must have their walkways cleared by 9:00 a.m. However, during the recent snow storm, temperatures were hovering around 15 below zero by the time the snow should have been removed per the ordinance. The city council is now considering amending the ordinance to allow for exceptions when it is unsafe to be outside long enough to clear walkways.

To read more news from Custer, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive

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Wednesday, 21 December 2016 00:54

State Issues RFI for Custer STAR Academy

Parties interested in purchasing the State Treatment and Rehabilitation (STAR) Academy in Custer may now submit a request for information to the State of South Dakota, reports KOTA News. The state is aiming to sell the property to a business or organization that contributes to the local economy or has an otherwise positive effect on the community.

The STAR Academy closed earlier in 2016, as the state reduced the number of juveniles that were sent to the camp. The building is nearly 170,000 square feet and is situated on just over 180 acres of land. The property includes meeting areas, commercial laundry, running track, athletic field, and a fishing pond.  

To read more news from Custer, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive

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The Custer School District’s Board of Education is now recording its board and meeting minutes online, reports the Custer County Chronicle. Taking digital notes had been attempted previously, however, concerns over the program halted the transition.

The current program selected by the board costs $1,700 annually and is easily accessible. The cost is comparable to what was previously spent on paper for recording minutes. Board members note that digitizing meeting minutes allows community members more access to school board decisions.

To read more news from Custer, visit the online news archive. To learn more about education and training in Custer, visit its Black Hills Knowledge Network city page

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Two hundred forty-four head of bison will be up for auction at the 2016 Custer State Park Fall Classic Bison Auction on November 19, states a news release from the State of South Dakota. The auction will take place at the new Custer State Park Visitor Center, located 15 miles east of the City of Custer on Highway 16A.

Custer State Park has held bison auctions for the past 51 years. This year, the auction will include video bids. Buffalo Herd Manager Chad Kramer hopes that the video auction will help the park reach a wider customer base.

To read more about Custer State Park, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive

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A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new Custer Regional Hospital and Health Clinic last week, reports the Custer County Chronicle. The new 42,000 square foot facility will cost $18.43 million dollars and is being built through a public-private partnership.

The new facility will allow for future growth and enhanced care coordination. Scull Construction is the general contractor for the new facility while BWBR, a firm based in Minneapolis, is the architectural firm. The original hospital in Custer opened in 1962 and will continue to operate until the new facility is completed.

To read more news about Custer, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive

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Road and bridge improvements dominated the discussion during the October 5 Custer County Commission meeting, reports the Custer County Chronicle. $5.2 million dollars will be spent on road resurfacing and bridge improvement projects over the next five years. 

The five-year plan developed out of a requirement written into South Dakota Senate Bill 1, which appropriated funds for the state’s Bridge Improvement Grant (BIG) program. The legislation mandates counties to implement a five-year bridge and road improvement plan in order to be eligible for BIG program funds.

Repairs included in Custer County’s five-year plan include chip seal on Sidney Park Road, a new bridge on Hazelrodt Cutoff, county-wide road resurfacing, and numerous bridge replacement and improvements across the county.

To learn more about Custer County, visit the Custer County page on the Black Hills Knowledge Network. To catch up on recent news in Custer County, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive

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South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks began reconstructive efforts on Legion Lake in Custer State Park earlier this month, as reported by the Rapid City Journal. The projects include removing excess cattails, reinforcing the shoreline, and constructing a new sidewalk along the north shore.

In order to complete the improvements, the lake’s water level was reduced and its fish were relocated. Game, Fish and Parks officials anticipate the projects to be completed this fall, but lake access will be restricted. Visitors can expect the lake to be fully restored by spring.

Check out the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive for more information on Custer State Park. 

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Though the Custer County budget has yet to be formally submitted for approval by the county commission, it has already seen cuts. According to the Custer County Chronicle, the initial budget estimate of $8.8 million has been reduced to $8,281,416, with an expected county revenue of $8,274, 106 in 2017.

Cuts to the budget included a number of factors, particularly a lower than anticipated cost of health insurance increase for county employees. Though the insurance cost hikes seem to be off trend for 2017, Custer County Auditor Nancy Christianson stated that the cost to cover employees has doubled from $307,800 to $620,000 since 2007.

For more on Custer County government, see this Black Hills Knowledge Network Custer County Government and Citizenship permanent page.

To read further stories on Custer County, see our Black Hills Knowledge Network news archive

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Custer County officials were prepared to remove a locked gate constructed on Farmer Road at the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) compound near Pringle in southwest Custer County. The Custer County Chronicle reports that no action was necessary, as FLDS removed the gate voluntarily.

The Custer County Commission met July 6th and discussed this issue after it was brought to its attention by local landowner Jim Farmer. The gate was built on Farmer Road, which runs through the FLDS compound and is marked as public right of way, meaning that no gates can be built on it. The gate was constructed at the northern end of the FLDS property past the guard tower. FLDS members were alerted by the county that they had a week to remove the gate or county officials would remove it. County Sheriff Rick Wheeler said that FLDS members had been uncommunicative with him following his assistance in the arrest of leader Seth Jeffs, so the order had to be delivered in person.

When the gate was originally built, it was kept locked and Farmer was offered keys, but Farmer feared that the gate would impede his ability to rent his property, located at the end of Farmer Road, past the FLDS compound. Law enforcement later told FLDS members that the gate must remain open and unlocked, which was followed, but ultimately the gate was not allowed.

Looking for more information? Read more about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the compound in Pringle on the Black Hills Knowledge Network and visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network archive

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Western South Dakota and the Black Hills region is in the midst of a record-setting drought, reports the Rapid City Journal. Area ranchers are already seeing the effects of this dry spell in their hay fields, which are yielding a fraction of what they have in past years. Many ranchers are choosing not to hay at all due to the dry conditions and shortage of grass.

This spring, several Black Hills counties were listed as “abnormally dry” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including Custer, Fall River, Lawrence, Meade, and western Pennington counties. Now nearly all of western South Dakota is receiving little to no precipitation, and Lawrence, Meade, and Pennington counties all show signs of severe drought. The drought is expected to continue throughout the summer and into fall, according to the National Weather Service, with no large amount of rain expected.

These dry conditions have fed heavily into high fire danger in the area, and what thunderstorms do come through the region carry the risk of lightning fires. Evidence of this can be seen burning currently on Crow Peak, near Spearfish.

For more information about droughts in the Black Hills, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network archive or visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Drought Monitor here.

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Wednesday, 29 June 2016 00:00

FLDS Leader Escapes Custody in Utah

Lyle Jeffs has escaped federal custody only two weeks after his release on bond in Salt Lake City, reports the Custer County Chronicle. Jeffs, leader of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) compound near Pringle, was awaiting trial for facilitating large-scale food stamp fraud.

Many former FLDS members and other community members and officials were angry to hear that Jeffs had been released from custody at all. Custer County Sheriff, Rick Wheeler suspects that Jeffs will attempt to return to the compound at Pringle, while one Jeffs’ family members believe that he has already left the country.

Need more information? Read more about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the compound in Pringle on the Black Hills Knowledge Network and visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network archive

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Thursday, 16 June 2016 00:00

City of Custer Employees Unionize

Employees of the city of Custer's Public Works Department will be unionized after a collective bargaining agreement was struck with city officials, reports the Custer County Chronicle

The new unionized employees won't experience dramatic changes in work hours or pay, the Custer mayor said. Most changes would come in strengthening employee rights in terms of discipline and firing along with the accrual of sick time and vacation pay. 

Not all employees of the city's public works department belong to the union, which requires members to pay dues. 

Read more about Employment on the Black Hills Knowledge Network

 

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A network of safe houses, posters in local businesses and a billboard near a secretive religious compound are being planned to help people who want to leave the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints compound near Pringle, reports the Custer County Chronicle

A phone number and basic information promising help are needed on the billboard and posters, while the state Department of Social Services should be ready to step in with assistance, an expert in helping members of the sect told a group of locals who have been meeting regularly. Business owners and providers of safe houses will need training on how to communicate with defectors, who will be "terrified."

The mayor of Custer compared the efforts to the Underground Railroad that helped people escape slavery in the southern United States in the 1800s. The Utah non-profit group Holding Out HELP is assisting the efforts in Custer County. 

Wives of the imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs are being housed at the walled compound, in part to prevent them from testifying in court, the Custer group was told. 

The group of concerned citizens and local officials began meeting due to concerns that children born at the compound, probably to underage girls, were not getting birth certificates or being educated as required by law. 

Need more information? Read more about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the compound in Pringle on the Black Hills Knowledge Network and visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network archive.

Read more about Public Safety on the Black Hills Knowledge Network. 

 

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The new Peter Norbeck Visitor Center dedicated at Custer State Park in May is a continuation of the former governor's personal vision for the park, reports the Pierre Capital Journal

Norbeck worked for 20 years to create the park in the early 20th century, and it has become the crown jewel in South Dakota's parks system. Norbeck personally designed roads to provide visitors with views of Mount Rushmore, wrote Gov. Dennis Daugaard

"Visitors won’t be able to miss the new facility as they come into the park," wrote Daugaard. "With so many things to do and see, first-time visitors — and even seasoned guests — need a guide. ... A new state-of-the-art visitor center that will serve as that guide."

Daugaard led the effort to build the new $6 million facility, with help from the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation, reports the Custer County Chronicle. Three donors gave $1 million to the new center, including Lloyd and Beverly Paulson, the James and Eloise Elmen Foundation and the Helmsley Charitable Trust

Read more about Custer State Park on the Black Hills Knowledge Network

 

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A restored historic hotel on Custer's main thoroughfare has been bought by the parent company of Custer State Park Resorts and will be rented to groups, reports the Custer County Chronicle

The Kleeman House, built in 1883, had been condemned by the early 1990s and calls were growing louder for its demolition when a local couple bought the two-story brick building in 2010 and restored it. Exterior coverings and paint were removed from the red brick, and a detailed description from the Custer newspaper at the time the hotel opened aided in returning the property to its original Victorian style. 

What had been nine second-floor bedrooms are now four suites with private bathrooms. A fifth suite that is handicapped-accessible is on the main level, along with a fireplace, parlor, complete kitchen and laundry facilities. 

Read more about historic preservation on the Black Hills Knowledge Network

 

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