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Private park owners not happy with S.D. governor’s plan for Custer State Park

Private campground owners in the Black Hills of South Dakota aren’t thrilled with a state proposal to add $10 million in new campsites at Custer State Park.

Opposition isn’t limited to park owners concerned about competition from the state. Former park officials, state lawmakers and outdoor industry groups are also voicing concerns that a 50% increase in the number of campsites at the park will disturb wildlife populations and add to vehicle traffic.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and the state’s Game, Fish and Parks Department unveiled a plan late last year to develop a 75-acre site along Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop Road known as Barnes Canyon.

The new campsites would have electricity, paved roads and comfort stations with showers and bathrooms. The state said the new sites could generate as much as $500,000 annually.

“The best part about this investment is that the estimated economic impact of this expansion is so great that the project will pay for itself in a little more than a decade,” Noem told lawmakers during her budget address in December. Noem said the expansion would take advantage of the momentum in state tourism and also make it a bit easier for South Dakota families looking to camp at Custer State Park.

“Betrayed” campground owners

The South Dakota Campground Owners Association has come out against the expansion of campsites, saying it would lead to more unfair state-sponsored competition for private campgrounds.

“We just feel we can’t compete against the financial might of state government,” said Bill Paterson, owner of the Big Pine Campground about a mile southwest of the city of Custer. “We always thought she was a governor who would be on the side of small business, but frankly, it’s standing on the throats of small business.”

Custer State Park sees about 2.3 million visitors a year, more than double the next most popular state park.

Private park owners would rather see the state invest in housing for seasonal workers that would benefit the private enterprises in the Black Hills. Noem’s spokesperson said the camping industry’s concerns were unfounded, and that there was more than enough tourism business in western South Dakota to sustain all parties. The capacity at Custer State Park hasn’t been expanded in more than 40 years. There are currently a total of 341 campsites and 50 cabins.

Related:

The 12 most popular spots for RVing on public lands announced. What takes #1?

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Steve Garrett
3 months ago

I go to the Black Hills every year, more camp sites are needed, we always stay in the larger RV Parks because our rig won’t fit in most State Parks. We are 40ft long with a 25ft stacker trailer, 65ft overall, and we usually have to pay $90.00 per night, we are there for one to two weeks. We can only hope more competition happens then maybe the private parks would lower the rates just a bit but till that happens the Black Hills will remain our most expensive trip every year.

Sally Harnish
4 months ago

If the private park owners are worried about the state park adding sites, they may need a new business model. As popular as the area is, they are probably full anyway. No sympathy from us!

Tom
4 months ago

Having the state add more campsites is probably the only way to get more campsites added to the region. These days, most cities are rejecting any new campgrounds being built, and most are refusing to allow current campgrounds from expanding.

Vincee
4 months ago

I think it’s great to see a state government react to the travel trends of 2022. I wish my state leadership, NY, would act the same. I have stayed at Big Pine CG which is in itself an excellent CG, and I would guess a new state park CG with electric only would not affect their operation much if at all. The private CG owners want to have the cake their way only and eat it too.

Bill M
4 months ago

I think its great she’s thinking about expanding RV hook ups to state parks where I would love to spend more time compared to parking the trailer at a RV camp ground and then driving to the state park to enjoy it RV owners are just pissed they can’t wring every last dollar they can out of a RV owner with a family trying to get by on a budget State Parks would get every dollar invested in the up grade returned back to them very quick especially during Sturgis bike week

Drew
4 months ago

Hats off to Kristi…..2024.

CLeeNick
4 months ago

Sounds like a great use of public lands to me. We rarely stay in commercial campgrounds, preferring to boondock or utilize BLM or state park campgrounds, where there is space between sites and we are closer to the places we want to explore. Being packed like sardines into an RV park is not our idea of a good time. For those concerned about costs, government isn’t meant to be a profit-generating proposition. If the campground pays for itself, or even utilizes surplus tourism related revenues meant to bring people, and tourist dollars, into an area, it’s wise use.

Bill M
4 months ago
Reply to  CLeeNick

I agree

Jeb
4 months ago

Having been there a couple years ago I believe expanding the park campground to be beneficial. Getting A site was difficult and I was there in the off season.

Don S
4 months ago

We worked in Custer State Park one summer (and a SD resident to boot). In our travels around the area, we saw a lot of run down rv “resorts” but they were full. If they are afraid of a 175 site campground, so be it

Bill Richardson
4 months ago

We also prefer the experience offered by public park campgrounds. I’ll take nature any day over swimming pools and game rooms and sites jammed too close together. Of course, it can’t get worse than Yellowstone!. I doubt the local private parks will be seriously hurt. The market is plenty big enough for both. I also agree that the math is squirrly. Generating $500,000 in gross income is not the same as $500,000 in net income (after expences) available to pay back the cost of the project. I’m not going to try to recreate their math but it makes a difference if the $500,000 is projected campground fees plus park entrance fees or does it include additional revenue the additional RVers will spend in the local economy. At any rate, I vote to build it, they will come.

Gary
4 months ago

They are already there, they just need a place to put their RV. More spaces are needed.

Wayne
4 months ago

So “private” owners like their privacy (and I would defend their “rights” to it),
I see them as hypocrites when they Suggest the “government”, or more accurately their friends and neighbors to subsidize “housing for their employees.

The Lazy Q
4 months ago

I don’t care if you’re demo, repub, commie, or socialist…well I do but that’s a different subject, we all know that government money projections and statistics will never add up and always used to to inflate/skew whatever direction they are wanting to go and it will cost much more to build than projected and will probably never be paid for but as for building this campground, I believe it will be a win and no way detrimental to the local community or take them almighty dollars away from private owners. But if the private owners have tried to expand and been shot down for it, well then, I now have a problem with it.

Ken
4 months ago

That’s government math, a $10,000,000 project, “sites that could generate up to $500,000 annually” , “will pay for itself in little more than a decade” Huh? I could go on about increases in labor, liability cost, and other overhead cost increases over the ” little more than a decade” but no need.

Fred
4 months ago

All states have state park campgrounds, & there’s nothing wrong with expanding the campground in a state park as big as Custer. Tourism is growing, & this should not have a negative impact on private campgrounds, nor on the wildlife on a park that size. The state has determined there is a need for more campsites in the area. Are the private campgrounds spending the money to expand? I doubt it. One of the responsibilities that states have assumed is to promote tourism, & that includes having enough accommodations for visiting tourists. If private campgrounds cared enough to fill the void, the state probably wouldn’t have to.

Jim Prideaux
4 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I agree with you. My wife and I prefer state park campgrounds. The more there are the better we like it. I think park campers and private campground campers are different communities. Maybe the term camper is inappropriate. We like the state park campgrounds because they are close to trails. They generally have playgrounds but many are with out swimming pools, game rooms, miniature golf etc. And mostly they are out in the middle of the woods, grassland or desert. Private campgrounds are often located close to other attractions and have more developed facilities. They generally have a less remote, back to nature, feel about them.

Karen Grace
4 months ago

As a two time visitor to Custer SP (and resident of SD) I think this article misses the point of what “should” be the objection to this expansion, based on destruction of the area used by wildlife, along with an already over populated use of the park during peak tourism seasons. Needles Highway is one of the most beautiful roads in this country and increasing the potential numbers of campsites will only contribute to what is already a very busy road during summer camping season. This is not to mention the impact more campers will have on the wildlife and environment. While I realize that RV travel is a proponent of increasing camper sites, it is important to weigh the consequences of such actions. People who speak out without having visited should go to Custer and see it’s beauty which is definitely on a par with National Parks.

Joseph
4 months ago
Reply to  Karen Grace

We’ve been to Custer SP once and absolutely loved it – can’t wait to go back. I agree with your statement.

Stay safe, Joe

Tom M
4 months ago
Reply to  Karen Grace

Been there and loved it. Adding a bunch of new sites will only degrade the experience. The wildlife loop road is for wildlife viewing not rv viewing.

KellyR
4 months ago
Reply to  Karen Grace

Karen, Amen. I am so glad that I got to see it, a number of times, when it was still wild – without the bumper to bumper traffic I see on videos when some city slicker sees a wild animal for the first time and has to get stupid. I fear I would be upset if I was to go back today. More RV/camping sites is more traffic, trash, noise, light, etc. that so many complain about. Why further mess up nice wild places with people that sit in their RV watching it on television or cell phones anyway? (Gosh, I’m getting old and cranky.)

Mike
4 months ago
Reply to  Karen Grace

I have been to Custer State Park many, many times. The whole Black Hills area is one of my favorite places to visit, and I have been fortunate enough to have traveled the world on 5 of its continents extensively.

I support the expansion of more camping spaces within the park but I would agree that the Wildlife Loop shouldn’t be the location. I would think that expanding in areas already developed would be a better play.

It has been difficult to find open/available sites anywhere in the hills area. I don’t think this will negatively impact private campgrounds to any material extent.

Dan
4 months ago

We prefer State Parks and COE Parks. They’re always clean and well patrolled and most of all, the campsites are not packed too close to each other just to squeeze an extra buck out of the land. To be fair, we’ve never camped in South Dakota, so maybe that’s not a problem.

John Marucci
4 months ago

With over 600,000 RVs shipped in 2021, and more coming in 2022, the tide is rising for all campground owners and the concern of state competition is overblown in my opinion. There needs to be more lower cost campsite opportunities and state parks provide this. Once the new state park campground is built, wait a year or two years and follow up on this story. I doubt private campground owner near this great location will be hurting unless we have major downturn.

Tony
4 months ago

It’s unfortunate that the camp owners can’t see the big picture and realize the potential increase in the number of future RVers that will be drawn to the area. e.g. most restaurants increase sales as other competitors move in the neighborhood. I forget the marketing term for this but it is a fairly common practice.

Mike
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony

Exactly

Wayne
4 months ago

Boohoo, private campgrounds won’t/can’t invest in their parks, yet continue to increase rates. Work out a mutually beneficial plan