Is Spearfish Canyon Set to Become a State Park? | Black Hills Travel Blog

Is Spearfish Canyon Set to Become a State Park?

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Picturesque Spearfish Canyon has been a favorite of Black Hills residents and visitors since the start of the 19th century. It's a year-round destination known for its 22-mile scenic byway, three waterfalls, great trails and hidden gems like Devils Bathtub and Community Caves. It's been named one of the best places to see fall colors in the nation, and frequently recited by many (around these parts anyway), is what famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright had to say on a visit in 1935:

“But how is it that I've heard so little of this miracle and we, toward the Atlantic, have heard so much of the Grand Canyon when this is even more miraculous? My hat is off to South Dakota Treasures.”

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard shared this quote recently as he and his family also hold Spearfish Canyon as a special place. And it is with the goal to preserve and make treasures in Spearfish Canyon, like Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Falls, accessible for more generations to enjoy, that the Governor publicly announced in January the plans to acquire 73 acres of land in Spearfish Canyon—the start of what would be Spearfish Canyon State Park.

The land purchase is made possible with hundred of thousands in help from the Spearfish Canyon Foundation, who is purchasing the 73-acre parcel from Barrick Gold Corporation for $750,000. The land runs from Roughlock Falls to Spearfish Falls, and along Spearfish Creek to Savoy Pond on the way to Cheyenne Crossing.


With the addition of nearly 73 more acres, the state owns (or will very soon own) over 125 acres as marked in dark green on this map. The lighter green area is what the Governor and SD Game, Fish and Parks ultimately hope becomes the nearly 1,500-acre Spearfish Canyon State Park.

And while some public opinion expressed online is worried about potential use or entrance fees – Gov. Daugaard has said recently in the Rapid City Journal that a “modest user fee would allow the state to maintain these facilities in Little Spearfish Canyon. At the same, my plan does not include a park entrance fee of any type to drive the scenic byway through Spearfish Canyon.”

If the project turns out anything like the Roughlock Falls State Nature Area that SD GFP unveiled in July 2008, the park definitely would serve Gov. Daugaard’s vision of future enjoyment. True enough, while visitors to Roughlock Falls can no longer wade under the falls like decades ago, they can at least access it – which wasn’t the case off-and-on from 2003 to 2008. During this time, a chain-link fence was put up (which could or could not be jumped) as property used to access the falls was not publicly owned and the place was "being loved to death," as SD GFP put it.

Like Roughlock Falls then, Spearfish Falls is not currently accessible by the public as the land used to access it is privately owned. Just like it couldn't be discovered for over 85 years up until November 17, 2003. The 47-ft Spearfish Falls was actually one of the most popular tourist stops in the Northern Hills around the end of the 19th century, but was turned off for those 85 years due to operations at Homestake Mine that were diverting the water. So while fears of a use fee have been verified, the fact is that currently no one can access this amazing location anyways. The state of South Dakota wants to change that.

Representatives from the Gov’s Office have gone on record with Black Hills Fox News as saying “summer or spring of 2018 would be a time where we could do a dedication…maybe we can do it faster."

A project like this can raise a lot of fears of change, but it seems like the best intent of those who can actually make this happen are driving the project. Here's to hoping a good balance for all can be found.


About the Author

Mike, by accident he ended up in sales and marketing; Mike's education and background is in journalism, with an emphasis in photojournalism.

Having spent most of his life in various South Dakota towns on the east-side of the Missouri River – like Huron, Vermillion, Brookings and Pierre – Mike followed a girl west to Spearfish.  He has thoroughly enjoyed the past thirteen years there.

What Mike loves most is time spent around the Hills with his family, whether it's in Spearfish Canyon, at a Black Hills attraction or at Spearfish City Park and the DC Booth National Historic Fish Hatchery. He also loves dusting off his camera every now and then for a shoot, making a good meal and washing it down with a great beer.

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