Custer State Park tenting growth, Gov. Noem’s plan hits roadblock

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gov. Kristi Noem’s plan to expand camping capacity at Custer State Park hit a roadblock Tuesday when panel of lawmakers rejected the $5 million project.

After nearly two hours of testimony and debate, the House Ag and Natural Resources Committee voted 9-3 against adding 66 campsites to the Black Hills recreation area, a proposal pitched by the Game, Fish and Parks Department.

“I was elected by the people to represent them in Pierre, and the people of District 30, which Custer State Park is in, have spoken very loudly,” said Rep. Trish Ladner, R-Hot Springs, of why she joined the ranks of resistance to the project that drew a chorus of emails and calls of opposition in recent weeks.

Previously:gov. Kristi Noem relocates, cuts funding in half for Custer State Park camping project

Initially, the administration had proposed $10 million for 176 sites at what would have been a brand new campground along Wildlife Loop Road. But after it became clear that wasn’t a popular idea, because of the potential impact on wildlife and traffic as well as the potential for more camping at the park to impede on the private campground industry, Noem and GFP scaled their project down to 66 sites and found a new location near the western border of the park near French Creek.

A sightseer takes photos of bison as they inspect stopped cars on March 22, 2021, at Custer State Park.

GFP Secretary Kevin Robling in recent weeks, and again in testimony to the committee Tuesday, insisted more camping capacity in the park is necessary given the unprecedented number of visitors flocking to the Black Hills. And with more than 8 million people entering the park alone in 2021, he and project supporters argued the demand for camping is so high, the addition of 66 sites would not hinder the private campground industry.

“It’s a beautiful place out there and I think it’s a place we should share with folks,” said Rep. Caleb Finck, R-Tripp. “I think the demand for that is greater than what the supply of campsites is and by adding these 66 sites … I don’t think that’s going to compete with the overall demand that exists above and beyond that outside the park as well. “

However, that level of public opposition to the project proved too much for the project to overcome.

“I thank the secretary and the department for bringing forward an alternative but I don’t think this addresses the situations that I’m hearing on email,” Rep. Dean Wink, R-Howes. “This set a new record. I got 500 emails on this and there was one proponent.”