By Sen. John Thune
South Dakota is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in the United States: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Badlands, and if you mentioned Wall Drug to nearly any stranger from New York to Los Angeles, they would know the place made famous by free ice water and 5 cent coffee. While the attractions themselves generate nationwide interest, South Dakotans do an amazing job highlighting these wonders and creating additional opportunities that continue to draw people from across the state, nation, and world.
These larger-than-life landmarks hardly need an introduction, and for South Dakotans, neither do other statewide treasures like the Missouri River – one of my favorite spots in all of South Dakota – and Spearfish Canyon that winds its way through the Black Hills National Forest. The canyon’s natural beauty is evident to anyone who has driven from Spearfish down to Cheyenne Crossing or spent time hiking or camping in the canyon’s forest. These are good ways for visitors young and old to experience the canyon, but I believe we’re missing some big opportunities on this now-federally owned land.
After hearing Gov. Daugaard’s concerns about Spearfish Canyon, I led the state’s congressional delegation in drafting legislation that would facilitate a land transfer between the federal government and the state of South Dakota that would include nearly 2,000 acres of land in the Spearfish Canyon and Bismarck Lake areas. If enacted, the federally owned land would be turned over to the state in exchange for several parcels of state-owned land in Pennington, Lawrence, and Lyman Counties.
Take a look at state parks across South Dakota, and it’s pretty clear why we are pursuing this land transfer. State officials have repeatedly shown their ability to both protect the wide array of South Dakota’s natural resources and provide access to the opportunities they offer. That’s exactly what we need in Spearfish Canyon and Bismarck Lake: a strong emphasis on conservation so these resources can be made available for future generations, and at the same time, a willingness to provide greater access to these recreational areas.
It’s my job as your elected representative to make sure the federal government is held accountable to the people of South Dakota. Transferring these acres from federal to state control will fulfill that responsibility and help create more outdoor opportunities for South Dakotans and the millions of visitors to our state each year.