IMAGES OF THE PAST A Century of South Dakota State Parks
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Tunnel, Needles Drive, Black Hills
SD State Historical Society
Tunnel, Needles Drive, Black Hills

Images of the Past: A Century of South Dakota State Parks

SDPB’s new documentary visits the state park system.

South Dakota is home to 13 state parks. It’s little wonder each has a unique story developed as they have been on the traditional lands of Native peoples, the mountain slope sites of gold rushes and the prairies of settlers triumphs and travails.

This January, SDPB’s new documentary Images of the Past: A Century of South Dakota State Parks tracks the development of South Dakota’s state park system, in conjunction in the 100th anniversary of the opening of Custer State Park.

by Brian Gevik

Image - scene in custer Park custer park.jpg

It’s been a century since South Dakota’s first state park was established on a large parcel of land featuring forests, rock outcroppings, and grasslands in the southern Black Hills. Custer State Park opened in 1919 and essentially created its own history from then on. Governor and senator Peter Norbeck foresaw economic development and conservation in establishing both a wildlife refuge and a destination for hunters. Twisting and scenic roads were built through the area’s most rugged terrain, but it was also intended to be a place where people could get out and walk in the singular scenery of the Black Hills.

The story of Bear Butte (Lakota: Mato Paha, “Bear Mountain”) can be traced back thousands of years, and the story is still unfolding. People from several Native American tribes come to Bear Butte to dwell for a time in a sacred place and make a spiritual connection.

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Sica Hollow (“Sica” pronounced see cha, Lakota for unpleasant, of poor quality, or serious) is a rugged woodland park 15 miles northwest of Sisseton with a rich history and miles of horsing and hiking trails.

Good Earth Park at Blood Run is South Dakota’s most recently established state park. Just southeast of Sioux Falls on the Sioux River, it is one of the oldest sites of long-term human habitation in the United States and continues to be a place for traditional and living Indigenous culture.

A new state park is being proposed at Little Spearfish Canyon. We’ll explore the area as well as the process requered to establish a state park.

Photos and historical films will reveal the beginnings of traditions that continue today, from feeding the burros on the Custer State Park wildlife loop road to stopping for a photo at the Needles Eye to hiking the state’s forests and plains.

IMAGES OF THE PAST: A Century of South Dakota State Parks premieres Thursday, January 3, at 8:30pm (7:30 MT) on SDPB1.