Most national park boundaries are fairly static, not growing or shrinking over the years. But Wind Cave National Park is growing by more than 5,500 acres thanks to an acquisition arranged by The Conservation Fund, and now park officials are working on a plan to manage that addition.
The ranchland, previously owned by the Casey family, is located on the southeastern edge of the national park. Within the 5,556 acres is a 1,000-year-old buffalo jump -- a cliff used by Native
Americans to drive bison over to their deaths -- and a homestead dating to 1882, according to park officials.
The addition boosts the park's overall size significantly, as Wind Cave covered roughly 30,000 acres before the acquisition.
President Theodore Roosevelt set aside Wind Cave in South Dakota as the country’s eighth national park in 1903. Considered a sacred place by the Lakota, Wind Cave is one of the world's longest and most complex caves, known for its outstanding display of boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs. It was the first cave ever designated as a national park.
On the surface, the park now features more than 30,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie and ponderosa pine forest that provides important habitat for bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs. It is home to one of America’s most ecologically-significant bison herds, which dates back to bison relocated to the park from the Bronx Zoo and Yellowstone in the early 20th century.
Native Americans hunted buffalo on the newly acquired land over a thousand years ago, driving them over buffalo jumps, or cliffs. The tract also features Native American tipi rings and other cultural sites.
The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting important places across America, acquired the property at auction from the Casey family in 2010 and transferred it to the Park Service.
Now park officials are working on a plan to detail how the public has access to the acreage, and have scheduled a number of public meetings to gather input.
"This initial planning process is to solicit ideas from the public concerning how people will access the property, what types of visitor activities should take place, and if, and where, visitor facilities should be constructed,” said park Superintendent Vidal Davila.
The first meeting will be in Custer on Tuesday, March 13, at the Pine Room in the Custer County Courthouse Annex Building at 447 Crook Street. On Wednesday, March 14, a meeting will be held at The Mueller Center in Hot Springs at 801 S. 6th Street. The last meeting will be in Rapid City on Thursday, March 15, at the Ramkota Hotel Best Western at 2111 N. Lacrosse Street. All three meetings will run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
This round of public meetings will help determine the scope of the environmental issues and alternatives to be addressed in the plan.
Comments and ideas for using the land can be left at one of the meetings; mailed to the park superintendent at Wind Cave National Park, 26611 U.S. Highway 385, Hot Springs, S.D. 57747; or left on-line at this website.