The Northern Black Hills has a bit of history with above-ground cattle guards. In 1993, several of the devices were installed on the Fort Meade Recreation Area outside of Sturgis. Around the same time, several more were installed on the Bearlodge Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest in Wyoming. In the intervening years, thirty or more of these “roll over gates” have been installed throughout the Northern Black Hills. They have proven themselves in the field, with reduced instances of walk-through gates being left open and cattle being let out, and to date, there have been no reports of stock being injured by them. They have also proven to be remarkably durable for simple timber structures made from nothing more than 2″x6″ dimensional treated lumber and nails or screws. Those first roll over gates installed in 1993 did not receive any maintenance until Public Lands Day in 2013, and while several of the “treads” were replaced, the devices were still fully functional. As a result of their simple construction, they are also easy to repair in the field — even deep in the back-country — with nothing more than basic hand tools.
Many times these devices are referred to as a THAD (pronounced Tee Head) by locals. The acronym is the subject of some debate, but typically Trail Head Access Device, or Trail Head Animal Deterrent, depending on which of the folks with a long memory happen to be telling the tale. The newest design is in three pieces, intended to make the construction, installation, and maintenance all that much easier. It is almost unbelievable that such a simple, easy to maintain device makes using local trails so much more enjoyable for cyclists, hikers, and runners. Those with grazing leases sing praise as well, they tend to spend much less time chasing down stray cattle after the devices are installed. Trail users simply don’t have to be concerned about closing a gate if they don’t have to open the gate in the first place.
It was a snowy Sunday afternoon in April of 2016, when a handful of volunteers gathered in Spearfish to construct the latest of these roll over gates. Of the seven gates constructed that afternoon, two are destined for the Lookout Mountain Park in Spearfish, to compliment the revamped trail system under construction there. The other five will be installed on the Centennial Trail #89 on the Mystic District. These roll overs will be installed alongside existing gates on the Centennial from Highway 385, just south of Pilot Knob, south past Pactola, over Samelius to near Mt. Rushmore. The Centennial Trail has, for a number of years, been passable without opening a single gate for dozens of miles to the north of Highway 386. From Pilot Knob, just north of Pactola Reservoir, to Sturgis, one can travel the entire length of the Centennial Trail between these points without opening a single gate. These new roll overs will be the first installed in the Southern Black Hills, as part of the Tatanka Mountain Bike Race Special Use Permit with the Black Hills National Forest.