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Helmsley trust gives $1.8M for Custer State Park fire rehab

CUSTER (AP) -- A charitable trust established by the late hotel and real estate baroness Leona Helmsley is contributing $1.8 million to help rehabilitate Custer State Park after a historic wildfire, South Dakota officials said Thursday.

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CUSTER (AP) - A charitable trust established by the late hotel and real estate baroness Leona Helmsley is contributing $1.8 million to help rehabilitate Custer State Park after a historic wildfire, South Dakota officials said Thursday.

The funding will be used over three years to support aerial mapping, tree thinning and stream rehabilitation, among other initiatives, according to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. The December fire, which burned more than 84 square miles (218 square kilometers), was the third-largest in Black Hills recorded history.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in a statement that hard work that started with responding firefighters has continued to rehabilitation efforts, with the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust's help. Daugaard said park staff will have it in "pristine condition" by peak visitor season.

Helmsley trustee Walter Panzirer said the organization is pleased to help "secure the park for future generations."

"Custer State Park is truly a gem for the entire state of South Dakota," Panzirer said.

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The park just south of Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a top tourist destination, featuring hills with ponderosa pine and prairie. Visitors often drive through to see roaming buffalo and other wildlife.

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