2020 Report: Rapid City Zone

This report is the first Zone report and is a follow-on to our recently released Black Hills-wide report. This report covers the period since our last major update in 2017.

Under the Black Hills Trails Forest-wide volunteer agreement, our volunteers have cleared the Centennial Trail #89 north of the Black Elk Wilderness in earnest each year. The Centennial Trail is a vital hand-rail connecting many other trails and points of interest together, it is also one of the most iconic and toughest trails around, and with the publication of A Guide to Hiking South Dakota’s Centennial Trail hikers have taken to through-hiking the trail in droves even in the early season. Because much of the trail is far from the I-90 corridor, and much of the trail is rugged, maintenance often means a tough day for volunteers preceded and followed by a long drive to and from. Typically, Rapid City-based crews will maintain the trail as far north as Deer Creek, Pilot Knob, or Dalton Lake, and Sturgis-based crews take over from there. All of these volunteers deserve your thanks for keeping this trail accessible and enjoyable. The trails next to town are somewhat logistically “easy”, whereas the Centennial can turn into a bit of an animal to maintain. The spring maintenance usually starts around Memorial Day and is usually completed by early June.

Black Hills Trails took over the role of maintenance at Buzzards Roost from the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association, which built the trail system there more than 10 years ago. Since taking on that role BHT has kept up with the required maintenance, and also completed a significant re-route in cooperation with the Forest Service. This re-route is along the main route used by hikers to the Roost and is very likely the most-used trail by a good margin. Volunteers have also worked hard to mitigate and close down the myriad of new trails created by users at Buzzards Roost. The use at Buzzards has gone through the roof, and a certain percentage of these users are going off the designated route. Short-cutting creates significant drainage issues and damages the trails and vegetation. It is likely most of these users do not know what they are doing is wrong, as responsible trail users, it is all of our jobs to help educate those who are inadvertently causing damage to the areas we love.

Black Hills Trails also worked with the Forest Service to complete a re-route on Trail #40 a short distance west of the Centennial Trail intersection (near Deer Creek Trailhead), and Deer Creek Trailhead Spur. The previous trail alignment was straight up a hillside and due to years of erosion could best be described as climbing a boulder field. The new route, although still a bit unavoidably rocky, is of a much more pleasant grade and will now be both more maintainable and much more pleasant to use. Thanks to the Forest Service for taking point on the rough-in construction of this new section and teaming up with Black Hills Trails volunteers to handle the finish work and making the alignment presentable and usable.

Previous invests made in small trail tractors have made it possible to follow larger equipment such as mini dozers and mini excavators and do the finish work on sections of trail such as these in a short amount of time and with a small crew.

Although both Hansen Larsen Memorial Park and the City of Rapid City have some staff hours to dedicate to trail maintenance, all of the trails on both M-Hill and Skyline are very, very well loved. This means these downtown trails we all enjoy have even greater maintenance requirements than typical trails. We have been glad to have been able to assist both of these organizations maintain their excellent trail systems in downtown Rapid City by helping to supply equipment, expertise, and volunteers.

Several additional Black Hills Trails volunteers have gone through chainsaw training classes, known as S212, hosted by the Forest Service in the last couple of years. These classes are highly educational to all attendees from those who have spent years running a saw to collect firewood and even those who have worked as “chainsaw professionals” in the timber industry. The approach practiced by the Forest Service ensures volunteers are able to get the job done while keeping themselves and fellow volunteers safe while in the field. Although training such as this was made difficult in 2020 we hope to be able to create more opportunities for volunteers to receive the training they need to make an impact starting again in 2021.

Black Hills Trails was thankful to take point on the construction of a trail at Stevens High School to the used for the BHMBA youth race series among other uses. This trail is a significant highlight at the school and within the neighborhood. We were able to collaborate with the Rapid City School District, the Tom Pfeifle Organization, Hansen Larson Memorial Park Foundation, the City of Rapid City, RDO Equipment, and many diverse volunteers from both Black Hills Trails and the Black Hills Runners Club to bring the trail to fruition. This trail in the heart of Rapid City, and although short in length, proved to be huge in terms of relationship building and team building and we were happy to have been a part and look forward to helping ensure it is well maintained for use by our youth.

Volunteers build trail at Raider Park near Stevens High School in Rapid City.

Ok, but, are we going to get any new trails? Spearfish and Sturgis have gotten a bunch of new trails, what about Rapid City? We have fielded questions like this more and more often over the last year or two. So is Rapid City going to get a ton of official trails? Yes. Tons. Well, hopefully at least. To be more accurate, yes, around 25 miles in the near term is likely at the edge of Rapid City: the Shanks Quarry Trail System is becoming official. If the development of this trail system goes well then we will, with your support, swing for more. Look for a separate announcement with all the gory details on Shanks soon. The Shanks Quarry trail system will feature a brand new path to becoming official that, with any luck, should allow trail systems to be approved more easily in the future and move through the process in a much more orderly fashion.

Black Hills Trails has been fortunate to have received a great deal of support from within the Rapid City region as well as Black Hills-wide. Major contributions from the Black Hills Runners Club, Strider Bikes, proceeds from two years of the Black Hills Back 40, among numerous other contributions have begun filling the war chest that will be required to complete the Shanks Quarry system. All of this has occurred in advance of that trail system being officially signed off on by the Forest Service, and in advance of any official fundraiser. We are forever humbled by the support coming out of the communities where we live and work and hope that support will continue when the final fundraising targets for the Shanks Quarry project are announced.

This update covers the progress made by the Rapid City Zone of Black Hills Trails in 2018-2020, further updates covering what has been accomplished by the Spearfish and Sturgis Zones, as well as several project-specific updates will follow.

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