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Two mature bighorn sheep
Two mature bighorn sheep pose in green meadow Photo: Paul Horsted

Custer State Park

Custer State Park is South Dakota's first and largest state park. Its history dates back to 1897, when just eight years after South Dakota joined the union, Congress granted to the state sections 16 and 36 in every township as school lands. South Dakota had difficulties attempting to administer the scattered blocks of state school lands embedded in the Black Hills timberland. In 1906, negotiations were opened to exchange the scattered lands for a solid block. In 1910, South Dakota relinquished all rights to over 60,000 acres of timberland within the Black Hills Forest Reserve in exchange for nearly 50,000 acres of forest in Custer County and about 12,000 acres in Harding County. Together, these two parcels were designated Custer State Forest in 1912. After action by the State Legislature, having been prompted by the urging of "prairie statesman" Governor Peter Norbeck, Custer State Forest became Custer State Park.

The park grew rapidly in the 1920s, acquired additional lands; during the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps made many park improvements. CCC men laid out campgrounds and picnic areas, built a massive park museum, miles of roads, sturdy bridges and a stone fire tower, but, most importantly, constructed three dams creating Stockade, Center and Legion Lakes, all of which provide for water-based recreation. An additional 22,900 acres were added to the park in 1964. Today, the park encompasses some 73,000 acres, making it one of the largest national parks in the country. Its ecosystems range from prairie to pines to unique geological formations of the Sylvan Lake area. The park is home to one of the nation's largest publicly owned bison herds, as well as elk, deer, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Four state-owned, privately operated resorts offer dining, lodging, and recreational opportunities to the park's 1.8 million annual visitors. The mission of Custer State Park remains to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural, cultural, and recreational attributes of the park, "the Crown Jewel of South Dakota."

The project is documented with a short report on the history of the Park, 50th and 70th anniversary editions of South Dakota Conservation Digest devoted to Custer State Park, a 1999 issue of the Park's tabloid magazine Tatanka, several promotional brochures, including one for the Park's Buffalo Roundup and one for the annual Bison Auction, a glossy photo book entitled A Piece of Paradise: A Story of Custer State Park, and a videotape: "Custer State Park: Let Yourself Run Wild."

Originally submitted by: John R. Thune, Representative (At Large).



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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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