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Surveyor shortens South Dakota's tallest peak by 11 feet

RAPID CITY (AP) -- A surveyor who determined that South Dakota's tallest mountain is 11 feet shorter than originally thought likes to be precise. Jerry Penry told the Rapid City Journal that he felt compelled to bring modern technology to the tas...

RAPID CITY (AP) - A surveyor who determined that South Dakota's tallest mountain is 11 feet shorter than originally thought likes to be precise.

Jerry Penry told the Rapid City Journal that he felt compelled to bring modern technology to the task when he learned that the popularly accepted elevation of Black Elk Peak, known until August as Harney Peak, was based on surveys from the late 1890s.

"We're living in an era of precise measurements," he said, "and to have something out there that still relies upon something of an imprecise nature, it's almost a disservice to the way we say that we can measure things."

In September, Penry and six team members spent two days of their own time and money producing a better measurement.

They determined that the highest natural point on the peak, excluding the stone lookout tower, is 7,231 feet above sea level. That's 11 feet lower than the original estimate of 7,240 feet from the 1890s, which was later changed to 7,242 feet listed on the bronze plaque on the summit.

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Government publications and websites have conflicting information: The datasheets of the National Geodetic Survey say 7,244 feet, the U.S. Geological Survey's National Map says 7,191 feet and the same agency's Geographic Names Information System says 7,211 feet. The Black Hills National Forest, which includes the peak, says it's 7,242 feet, as does Custer State Park, which contains a popular trailhead.

Penry, who's from Denton, Nebraska, said he doesn't plan to push for push for changes to signs, publications or websites partly because he undertook the project only to satisfy his own curiosity and also because there is no formal process for requesting such changes.

Penry's work has an endorsement from David Doyle, the retired former chief geodetic surveyor for the National Geodetic Survey. Doyle said Penry's team is representative of the kind of exacting persistence that is often required of surveyors, and the advancement of the profession, which grows ever more precise.

"It's chasing the truth, if you will, and you may never actually get there," Doyle said. "But you're always in a quest to make it the best it can possibly be."

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