A New Addition To Peter Norbeck’s Park
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
Peter Norbeck was a very accomplished public servant. He served South Dakota as a legislator, lt. governor, governor and United States senator from 1909 to 1936. Of all things he achieved, he is most remembered as the “father of Custer State Park.”
Norbeck worked for 20 years to create Custer State Park, which is among the largest state parks in the United States. He designed many of the park’s roads. Thinking of the people who would travel to the area, Norbeck chose the route for Iron Mountain Road. Instead of the shortest route of 9 miles, he created a 16-mile road with fantastic views of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. He even helped construct fences at the park.
A marker placed at the Peter Norbeck Wildlife Preserve sums him up in this way: “His was the heritage of cold, strong lands; his the pioneer vision which saw far ahead, far beyond. He felt the strong heart throb of his beloved people commanding him to do greatly and be great. In these mountains he found a wilderness for them and labored to preserve its beauty unspoiled for them and for their children’s children. He is still present in every mile of road that he built, in the noble pines and towering rocks he loved, and in the hearts of the multitudes who will enjoy them.”
When he spoke at the First National Conference on State Parks in 1921, Peter Norbeck observed, “Parks are not merely picnicking places. They are rich store houses of memories and reveries. They are bearers of wonderful talks to him who will listen, a solace to the aged and an inspiration to the young.”
Likewise, Custer State Park is so much more than a picnicking place. Each year nearly 2 million people from all over the world come to see the buffalo, drive the wildlife loop, hike Lover’s Leap, fish on Legion Lake, and swim and kayak up at Sylvan. This 72,000-acre getaway destination is a place where memories are made.
With so many things to do and see, first-time visitors – and even seasoned guests – need a guide. Last week we celebrated the opening of a new state-of-the-art visitor center that will serve as that guide.
Visitors won’t be able to miss the new facility as they come into the park. They’ll be able to start at the visitor center to find out about the layout of the park, the many activity options and even where the buffalo are in the park at any given time. They’ll also have the chance to stop in the new state-of-the-art theater to watch a 20-minute introductory film called “Spirit of Tatanka” which is narrated by Academy Award winner Kevin Costner.
Establishing the Custer State Park visitor center took time, hard work and finances. An exemplary public-private relationship made this building a reality. In 2013 the Legislature approved my proposal to allocate $1.5 million for the visitor center. I am grateful to the legislators and taxpayers who saw this as a priority. I am also grateful to the private groups and individuals who contributed a total of $3.5 million for this project.
Whether you are well acquainted with Custer State Park or you have never been, I invite you to come to the park this summer and check out the new visitor center. It’s truly an addition the father of Custer State Park would be proud of.