2020 Report: Sturgis Zone

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

The Sturgis Zone of Black Hills Trails has, in addition to new construction, also tackled existing maintenance tasks on the Centennial Trail #89 north of Dalton Lake each year. In addition, Sturgis-area volunteers have assisted Spearfish and Rapid City with maintenance and new construction projects both through shared equipment and expertise and also by showing up to help when our neighbor zones need it. There is no place for old high-school rivalries in trail, especially when we hope to get things done on the ground. We sincerely hope the “rising tide raises all ships in the harbor” approach to trail continues to be infectious as it has been one of the keys to success in Sturgis.

In support of the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association and their youth mountain bike race series Black Hills Trails volunteers constructed a new beginner-to-intermediate trail on City property with connections to the Fort Meade Trail, which is a gravel path, as well as the Centennial Trail near Fort Meade Cemetery. This route has been used in multiple youth events to date, and we look forward to the continued growth of youth cycling, and trail use in general, in the greater Black Hills region.

Access to a stacked loop trail system from the edge of town via multiple locations has led to the inclusion of a short and extremely fun mountain bike race as part of Music on Main in downtown Sturgis on Wednesday evenings in the summer. Riders are given a police escort out of town at the start of the event and complete a different 8-15 mile course each evening, returning to town to enjoy live music and a fun, family-friendly festival atmosphere. We are proud to have helped to make such an event possible.

The Sturgis Zone of Black Hills Trails completed construction of all the routes proposed in the original Deadman Trail System proposal, which became the Sturgis Trail System, and more routes that were later identified. The Sturgis Trail System was a large part of the impetus for the formation of Black Hills Trails. One could say the organization has fulfilled its original goal! There is ever so much more to come as we are actively planning future interconnects and helping to plan trail systems within surrounding communities. We hope to eventually connect these communities to Sturgis with trails.

The completion of the Sturgis Trail System was also hastened through a new acquisition made possible by support from our many partners. We have strived to be extremely efficient with contributed volunteer time as well as dollars. The mini excavator purchased by the Sturgis Zone has proved to be a critical tool for putting trail on the ground through tough terrain with a minimal volunteer crew. After these tougher sections are established we are then able to ask larger crews of volunteers to finish those trails with hand tools and with our walk-behind tractors.

This new Sturgis Trail System has been officially designated Trail #78 by the Forest Service. 1978 is also the year the City of Sturgis purchased the property containing the Sturgis City Dams from the former water company. As part of this system becoming official Black Hills Trails has entered into a long-term maintenance agreement with the City of Sturgis to ensure the trails are always maintained to a high standard. This agreement gives Black Hills Trails the ability to use volunteers as effectively as possible to maintain the new, world-class, trail system surrounding Sturgis.

Total contribution by Black Hills Trails volunteers and partners in the Sturgis Trail System from 2013-2020.

Going forward we expect to be able to complete construction and maintenance projects faster and more efficiently with our volunteer workforce through the smart application of tools such as our Grillo trail tractors and mini excavator. Although the Sturgis system has been completed on the ground, and the trailheads are mostly established, there is a fair bit of work yet to be done. Temporary signage and maps were placed on the ground in 2019, pending agreements for permanent signage.

Now that final agreements are in place between the Forest Service, the City of Sturgis, and Black Hills Trails we are making final preparations to place permanent signage on the trails, at intersections, and at the trailheads around the system. The completion of this trail system on the ground has been a fantastic achievement that, at numerous points, our organization was told as a matter of fact would not or could not happen. We are extremely thankful to every volunteer, every supporter, and every donor who has contributed to bringing us this far. Given that, we understand that we haven’t quite made it to the finish line on the Sturgis system yet. With all the experience within Black Hills Trails and its zones maintaining hundreds of miles of trail all over the Black Hills we understand there will be constant maintenance required to keep these trails great. That means cutting out trees, repairing water and user damage, replacing and updating signage, and cleaning up after natural disasters such as winter storm Atlas.

We are confident the volunteers who have so boldly and rapidly made these trails appear on the ground will continue to ensure they are maintained to a high standard. But even with a motivated volunteer crew to do the work there are still expenses required to pursue this needed maintenance, those expenses add up quickly, and they persist year after year. Unfortunately, fundraising for maintenance just isn’t as exciting to either donors or organizers as fundraising for new trails, and having to pursue sources of funding every year to maintain this system will severely limit the ability of volunteers to continue to tackle big projects and put new trails on the ground.

To address this ongoing need and ensure this new trail system remains a premium asset to the Sturgis community the Black Hills Trails leadership has decided that before calling the Sturgis project done, the final task will be the establishment of a foundation to support future volunteer maintenance for these trails. Based on maintenance expenditures by all three zones since 2013 we know this trail can be maintained forever with as little as $1 per foot of trail in an endowed fund. More details on this endowment kick-off, as well as some ways supporters will be able to make their mark on the trail system will be announced soon.

This update covers the progress made by the Sturgis Zone of Black Hills Trails in 2018-2020, an endowment-specific update will follow.

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