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GFP looks to acquire much more land in Spearfish Canyon from Homestake

YANKTON — Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills might be home to South Dakota's next state park.

Homestake Mining Co. officials are in talks to sell two large parcels of land in Spearfish Canyon that would be placed into public ownership.

Two top officials from the state Game, Fish and Parks Department delivered a briefing Friday about the plan.

The Spearfish Canyon Foundation would purchase a 73-acre tract that includes Spearfish Falls and donate it the department, according to Doug Hofer, director for the state Division of Parks and Recreation.

The property was appraised at $1.225 million, but foundation officials are attempting to secure it for a smaller amount, Hofer said.

That stretch of the canyon covers more than one mile and would connect two tracts purchased in 2004 by GF&P from Homestake at Roughlock Falls and Savoy.

Hofer said the combined areas total 128 acres surrounded by U.S. Forest Service lands.

Hofer, who likely will go down as the largest builder of South Dakota's system of state parks and recreation areas, has his sight set for this development.

"Your thoughts begin to wonder what this could be," Hofer said.

He said the combined resources in Spearfish Canyon "would top the list" for a new state park.

Hofer made his remarks as part of a briefing for the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission during its regular business meeting at Lewis and Clark Resort along the Missouri River west of Yankton.

Commissioner Cathy Peterson, of Salem, recalled hiking to Spearfish Falls from Latchstring Inn in October.

"That is the most beautiful falls. It is amazing," she said. "It's a gorgeous place."

The department would directly purchase a second parcel of 33 acres from Homestake including 3,200 feet of Spearfish Creek at the old Hydro 2 power-plant works in the canyon.

State Wildlife Division Director Tony Leif told the commission the current appraisal is $430,000.

Leif said there is sufficient money available from a trust fund and from the department's normal streams of Pitman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson federal aid that is funded by federal taxes on shooting and fishing equipment.

He said GF&P would pay normal property taxes on the Hydro 2 acres as a game production area, but land that is used for state parks, state recreation areas and boating access is tax-exempt.

The Latchstring Inn trail to Spearfish Falls is closed because of damage from the October 2013 snowstorm.

The foundation operates the trail under an agreement with Homestake.

"The net result is the public can't get down to Spearfish Falls to see the falls at this point," Hofer said.

He said the foundation wants the trail to be sold to GF&P.