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Plan to expand campsites at Custer State Park defeated in committee

The South Dakota House agriculture committee sent a revised $5 million bill to grow the campground at the Black Hills park to the 41st day on a 9-3 vote

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A view of the Black Hills from Custer State Park.
Christopher Vondracek / Forum News Service
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PIERRE — A bill that whipped up more opposition than many South Dakota lawmakers can remember has been sent packing to the 41st day.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted 9-3 Tuesday, Feb. 1, to defeat House Bill 1048 , a proposed $4.8 million to build 66 campsites near Stockade Lake in Custer State Park.

The bill, which was sponsored by the Game, Fish and Parks Department, was proposed as a $10 million spend with the expansion of 176 campsites across the state park in the central Black Hills.

But after public opposition, GFP officials had ratcheted down the request — even moving the proposed build away from the park's tourist-friendly wildlife loop.

While the changes ameliorated some concerns, the committee still voted down the measure, citing staunch public criticism from private campground owners, Custer County taxpayers, and wildlife enthusiasts.

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"I've had 1,500 emails, and none of them are in favor [of HB 1048]," said Rep. Trish Ladner, R-Hot Springs.

Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kevin Robling stumped for the revised program, citing memories yet to be made by families and arguing the park was seeing a spike in interest.

But opponents weren't swayed by his picture of expansion.

Rep. Taffy Howard, R-Rapid City, compared the park unfavorably to over-populated national parks in the American West, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.

"I believe Peter Norbeck would be rolling over in his grave if he could see what this generation is doing to Custer State Park," Howard said.

To save the measure, Rep. Tim Goodwin, R-Rapid City, proposed an amendment further paring down the proposed build by limiting it only to "tent camping."

But the measure wasn't met with much support.

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Rep. Dean Wink, R-Howes, said he'd never seen so many emails in his time in the Legislature.

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"I don't think this [amendment] addresses the main situation I'm hearing in the emails," Wink said.

The defeat of the campground plan is the second GFP project to hit roadblocks in the Legislature this cycle. Last week, the same committee axed a proposal to spend $2.5 million on a shooting range in rural Meade County.

Christopher Vondracek is the South Dakota correspondent for Forum News Service. Contact Vondracek at cvondracek@forumcomm.com , or follow him on Twitter: @ChrisVondracek .

Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at cvondracek@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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