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Mitchell man charged with wife’s suffocation death

No-fee promise comes into canyon debate

SPEARFISH (AP) — An 11-year-old promise by a former South Dakota official to never charge the public a fee for access to some parts of Spearfish Canyon is up for debate during discussion of a proposal to turn the canyon into a state park.

Former state Department of Game, Fish and Parks Secretary John Cooper originally made the promise in a 48-page-long document in 2006. He promised not to charge fees in areas including Roughlock Falls, Savoy Pond and 300 acres at the canyon mouth. Those areas were obtained from mining companies in order to restore them from damage caused by gold mining, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard plans to now create a 1,600-acre state park that includes those areas in the canyon, concerning critics in terms of fees. Former state legislator Jerry Apa wrote in a Jan. 1 op-ed that the state park and entrance fee would violate the earlier promises.

"In terms of bureaucratic life, the ink isn't even dry on this document and GF&P is trying to circumvent the intent of the agreement between Homestake and GF&P," Apa said.

Current Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler said no fees will be imposed to drive through the canyon, but other potential fees are being discussed as part of the initiative. Hepler said some user fees will be necessary to operate the park because annual interest from the fund established in 2006 amounts to only $6,000, while the cost to main visitor infrastructure at Roughlock Falls and Savoy Pond is about $34,000 a year.

Other examples of fees Hepler said might be imposed include camping fees and special event fees.

"There are multiple ways you can do that, and it would be irresponsible for us to say at this point that we know exactly what this is going to look like, because we don't," he said.

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