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Custer State Park to get new visitor center

The Norbeck Visitor Center is located along S.D. Highway 36 through the heart of Custer State Park near the State Game Lodge and Coolidge Store. (Bob Mercer/Capitol correspondent)

CUSTER -- The site isn't firm yet, but plans to construct a new visitors center in Custer State Park are moving forward.

Interviews will be conducted in the coming weeks with officials from the top four of eight engineering firms that formally showed interest in the project, according to Doug Hofer, director for the state Division of Parks and Recreation.

He said the construction timetable depends upon how quickly the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation can raise its pledged $1 million for the $3 million project.

Hofer briefed members of the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission during the final day of their meeting Friday in Custer State Park.

The Legislature appropriated $1.5 million for the project. That money becomes available July 1 and has a twoyear window to be used. Hofer said his division will provide $500,000 from its next budget.

The current visitor center is a historic stone building located near the State Game Lodge in the park. The current center would be converted to a nature programs building, while the new visitor center would feature a movie theater to show people the park's story and features.

The two locations under consideration for the new center are in the meadow directly across the highway from the current visitor center or in an another meadow just east of the Creekside Lodge and the State Game Lodge.

The locations are within about onehalf of a mile of each other.

Commission Chairwoman Susie Knippling, of Gann Valley, will serve on the project's building committee. State law now requires building committees for major GF&P projects as has been required for state university projects.

The visitors center plan comes as other major updates, renovations and expansions are on the drawing board at all four of the lodge areas that are operated in the park by a private company. Those projects total another $11 million to $14 million, based on early estimates.

Hofer said the visitor center project is part of an effort to put Custer State Park on the same level as some of the top U.S. national parks.

"Really our goal is they stay longer, they visit more facets of the park and they do it with more knowledge," Hofer told the commission.