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Celebrate South Dakota’s Great Outdoors

By Sen. John Thune

April 21, 2023

As warmer weather approaches and calls us outside, it’s a great time to celebrate National Park Week. South Dakota’s national parks are unlike any other place in the world. They range from prehistoric caves, storied trails and waterways, and mountains uniquely smoothed by the ages and the sculptor’s chisel. It’s no wonder that they attract millions of visitors, adventure seekers, and outdoor enthusiasts each year.

Each season brings its own treasure, and it doesn’t matter which time of year you say it, but there’s no better time to get outside and explore South Dakota’s natural treasures than now (unless I’m shoveling snow). Whether you’re looking for a hike in the Black Hills, a pilgrimage to Mount Rushmore, a scenic drive through the Badlands, or a journey into the caverns of some of the world’s longest caves, South Dakota’s outdoors have it all.

I’m not sure there’s a more beautiful place on earth than the Black Hills. The sights, smells, and shadows of this wilderness conspire to create something truly incredible. In the Southern Hills sits Mount Rushmore, where 60-foot sculptures of four great American presidents crown the height of America’s heartland. Two million visitors come to the Black Hills every year to see Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln immortalized in granite. Standing before this national treasure, you can’t help but feel a little prouder to be a citizen of this great land and an heir to our heritage of freedom.

Not far from Mount Rushmore, but lying far underground, are two of the longest caves in the world. Jewel Cave in Custer crawls 215 miles with unique formations all around you. Wind Cave, the first cave designated as a national park, spans 154 miles and boasts 95 percent of the worlds boxwork formations on its cave walls. Bits of Wind Cave’s boxwork sit in museums around the country, but in South Dakota you can see this natural art lining cave walls for miles.

And, of course, there’s the Badlands in all its rugged and out-of-this-world beauty. The Badlands’ smoothed mountains look like they belong on another planet, and its wealth of fossils brings you back eons to the prehistoric age. Once called “The Wonderlands” to attract homesteaders, it’s not hard to see how it got that name. As the sun rises and sets, the landscape’s colors change – to see the Badlands is to experience a true wonder.

America’s great outdoors need to be cared for and preserved for future generations. We’re beginning to see the results from the Great American Outdoors Act, which passed almost three years ago, as maintenance backlogs at national parks are finally being addressed. And I’m continuing to work to improve forest management in the Black Hills National Forest to reduce the risk of wildfire and damaging infestations. In this year’s farm bill, I’ll also be working to support the Conservation Reserve Program, which helps improve soil health and water quality, and it provides habitat for South Dakota’s wildlife too.

I’ve long loved our great outdoors – it’s hard not to fall in love with them. I have great memories of packing into the car for our family’s annual trip to the Black Hills as a kid and taking our daughters to the national parks as a dad. And growing up in Murdo, at the crossroads of Highway 83 and I-90, we saw plenty of families making their own pilgrimage each summer. As we celebrate National Park Week, I hope you’ll make time to enjoy our great outdoors and keep them great for the next generation to enjoy.