PIERRE, SD – Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the South Dakota Department of Tourism presented awards to tourism industry members the evening of Thursday, January 18th  at the 2018 Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Pierre.

The 9th Annual Rooster Rush Cacklin’ Community Award went to the community of Pierre for its efforts to welcome pheasant hunters to the state. The Pierre Chamber of Commerce organized giveaways, hosted concerts, and held a craft and vendor fair for hunters’ wives.

“Pierre once again rolled out the orange carpet and went above and beyond to make our pheasant hunters feel extra special,” said Gov. Daugaard.

The George S. Mickelson Great Service Awards were given to The Lodge at Deadwood, Rush Mountain Adventure Park, and Crazy Horse Memorial. This award honors businesses, communities, or organizations that have done an exemplary job of exceeding visitors’ expectations in customer service.

“Our winners are constantly evolving to meet the wants and needs of today’s visitor and working to increase their length of stay in our state,” said the governor. “They are raising the bar on customer service.”

The Excellence in Tourism Innovation Award is given to an industry partner for their innovative thinking in making their destination, business, or attraction even more appealing to visitors. This year’s award was given to The Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History for their marketing and promotions efforts surrounding the hosting of two koalas, which resulted in a nine percent increase in visitation.

“The Great Plains Zoo has been expanding and upgrading its offerings for the past decade but really knocked it out of the park when they created a promotion that had visitors extending their stay to experience it,” stated Gov. Daugaard.

This year, a brand new award was presented to three industry members from across the state who displayed outstanding and genuine hospitality to visitors. The Ruth Ziolkowski Outstanding Hospitality & Customer Service Award was given to Pouran Borchardt from the Children’s Museum of South Dakota in Brookings, Rita Franz from the Black Hills Visitor Information Center in Rapid City, and Dennis Scott from the Prehistoric Indian Village in Mitchell.

“These industry members represent the generosity and hospitality that Ruth showed visitors each day. I thank them for extending South Dakota kindness to everyone they meet,” said Gov. Daugaard.

The A. H. Pankow Award recognizes a representative of the media for showing superior interest in and coverage of the South Dakota tourism industry. The Meredith Corporation and Midwest Living Magazine were awarded the honor for their tireless promotion of South Dakota as a premier vacation destination to their millions of readers.

“Meredith Corporation and Midwest Living has been a longtime advocate for South Dakota travel and know South Dakota as well as most of us living here. They are consistently touting the state as a ’must-see’ destination to the entire country,” said the governor.

Lastly, the Ben Black Elk Award honors an individual who makes outstanding contributions to the state’s visitor industry. This year’s award was given to Craig Pugsley for his 40 years of service to the tourism industry through his work with Custer State Park.

“Craig is credited with helping shape the annual Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival into the world-class, three-day event it is today. He has also been involved in efforts promoting the city of Custer and the entire Black Hills region, believing that all destinations benefit when travelers come to see our icons,” said the governor.

The South Dakota Department of Tourism is comprised of Tourism and the South Dakota Arts Council. The Department is led by Secretary James D. Hagen.


Photo: Herb Ryan Photography

Industry Attains Eight Straight Years of Growth

PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota tourism industry has once again posted an increase in visitation, visitor spending, and overall impact on the state’s economy in 2017. This marks eight straight years of economic growth.

According to a new study by Tourism Economics, visitor spending reached $3.9 billion in 2017, an increase of 1.2 percent from 2016.  This contributed $2.6 billion in GDP to South Dakota’s economy, up 3.2 percent from 2016. These dollars flow through the South Dakota economy, supporting more than 53,900 jobs and generating more than $290 million in state and local tax revenue. Visitation to South Dakota remained steady at 13.9 million visitors, an increase of 0.1 percent from the previous year.

“The tourism industry continues to be an incredibly important and vital part of the South Dakota economy,” said James Hagen, Secretary of the Department of Tourism. “Along with other industries, the tourism industry felt the indirect effects of a struggling agriculture economy across the Midwest and the decreased discretionary income of households in the region. But despite that, as it always does, this industry demonstrated great perseverance and we couldn’t be happier about our growth in 2017. Our targeted marketing efforts and continued media coverage, combined with the marketing work of our partners across the state, paid off for the entire industry,” continued Hagen.

The tourism industry faced the challenge of topping numbers after two consecutive years of major anniversaries in the state that drew large numbers of visitors. 2015 marked the 75th anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the 50th anniversary of the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup. 2016 was the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the 75th anniversary of the completion of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

“We knew sustaining growth following two years of major anniversaries wasn’t going to be easy,” noted Hagen. “It’s extremely rewarding to see that our marketing tactics paid off and that South Dakota continues to be a major lure for visitors from across the world.”

2017 economic impact stats (percentages show increases from 2016)*:

·         13.9 million – number of visitors that came to South Dakota, an increase of 0.1 percent

·         $3.88 billion – amount of visitor spending, an increase of 1.2 percent

·         $2.6 billion – amount of GDP contributed to the state’s economy, an increase of 3.2 percent

·         $291 million – state and local tax dollars generated by travel and tourism activity, an increase of $12 million

·         $871 – the amount of tax dollars each South Dakota household saves because of the tourism industry

·         53,894 – number of jobs sustained by the tourism industry, an increase of 1.2 percent

Additional 2017 travel indicators:

·         60 percent – average hotel occupancy for the year

·         5.1 million – number of visitors to South Dakota’s national parks

·         57,000  – additional visitors to South Dakota’s state parks in 2016, which brought in $700,000 in additional revenue

·         $63.7 million – amount of advertising value earned through domestic and international public relations efforts in calendar year 2017, an increase of $37 million over 2016

·         5.6 billion – number of impressions earned through domestic and international public relations efforts in calendar year 2017

To view the full Tourism Economics report, visit


Custer State Park Visitors Center

The Visitor Center, located at the intersection of Hwy 16A and Wildlife Loop Road, is open from 10:00am to 3:00pm Monday through Friday, and 9:00am to 4:00pm Saturday and Sunday.

For more information check the Custer State Park Facebook page at or contact the Park Office at (605) 255-4515.

Fat Bike Trails Open For Use On Northern Hills Ranger District

Spearfish, South Dakota – Several fat bike trails are open for use on the Northern Hills Ranger District, Black Hills National Forest.

“Fat biking is an emerging recreation activity that is becoming more popular in the Black Hills,” said Steve Kozel, Northern Hills District Ranger. “We have worked closely with volunteer groups in identifying new trail opportunities and I greatly appreciate their effort in getting these trails ready for public use.”

Fat bikes have over-sized tires and low ground pressure that allows the user to ride off-road surfaces such as snow.

Fat bike routes have been authorized with Forest Service special use permits. Volunteers will be grooming, signing and maintaining several of the snow trails through March 31, 2018.

“Maintenance and grooming will vary depending on the conditions and availability of volunteers,” said Bonnie Jones, Recreation Specialist, Northern Hills Ranger District.

Fat Bike Trails – Northern Hills (SD):

·         Mount Roosevelt trail:  Located north of Deadwood, SD and starts on Forest Service Road (FSR) 133. Northern Hills Recreation Association is grooming the road from Moon Mountain Lane up to and around Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower.

·         SnowDog trailLocated about 1 mile south of Spearfish off of Tinton Road (FSR 134), the approximately 3 mile Snowdog trail can be accessed from the upper Tinton trailhead and Spearfish Quarry ATV trails.

·         Iron Creek/Red Lake trailBlack Hills Nordic Ski Association is grooming and maintaining this series of trails located in Spearfish Canyon, approximately ½ mile south of Long Valley Picnic Area. The trail follows Iron Creek and meanders through walls of limestone. The trail also traverses into the Red Lake ATV area and depending on conditions, potentially to the Old Baldy Trail.

  • Big Hill/Higgins GulchAlso groomed by Black Hills Nordic Ski Association, this trail starts at either the Big Hill trailhead or Crow Peak trail parking lot. To get to Big Hill from Spearfish, travel south on FSR 134 approximately eight miles to the trailhead which is on the west side of the road. To access the Crow Peak trail parking lot, travel from Spearfish southwest on FSR 214, approximately 7 miles to the parking area, which is on the west side of the road. NOTE: Although the trailhead starts at the Big Hill trailhead, it is not part of this ski trail system. Officials ask that users do not ride their bikes on the ski trails.

·         Lower Deadman trail: Black Hills Trails grooms this trail that begins on the south side of Sturgis, SD off of Pine View St. This approximately 4 mile trail goes out and back to Vanocker Canyon.

For more information on the Black Hills National Forest, visit

2018 Governor’s Conference on Tourism is “On the Move”


PIERRE, S.D. –The South Dakota Department of Tourism is encouraging tourism industry professionals to join the 2018 Governor’s Conference on Tourism next week, Jan. 16-18, in Pierre.

“The tourism conference, themed ‘On the Move,’ provides a great opportunity for networking, continued education and inspiration,” said James Hagen, Secretary of the Department of Tourism. “South Dakota’s tourism industry has been on the move for years. We’ve come a long way and we’re excited about the future and how our industry continues to grow and attract visitors from around the world.

The annual conference brings nearly 600 people from across South Dakota and the United States together to Pierre to celebrate successes, network with peers and educate themselves on trends in the travel and hospitality business.

“Sessions at this year’s conference are especially pertinent to attendees in 2018,” said Hagen. Nationally recognized speakers and industry experts will be brought in from across the country to share their expertise in specialized categories and speak on topics ranging from customer service training to marketing trends and pressing issues the industry faces, such as the need for finding and retaining workers.

The closing banquet, held Thursday, Jan. 18, honors and recognizes industry leaders. The following awards will be presented:

·         The Ben Black Elk Award recognizes an individual or group whose passion and enthusiasm have greatly influenced South Dakota’s visitor industry.

·         The A.H. Pankow Award recognizes a member of the media whose coverage and promotion of the state’s visitor industry are unparalleled.

·         The George S. Mickelson Great Service Award honors two businesses/organizations— one corporate and one non-corporate — that show an outstanding dedication to excellence in customer service.

·         The Excellence in Tourism Innovation Award honors an industry member for thinking “outside the box” when it comes to promoting their business and elevating the visitor’s experience.

·         The Rooster Rush Cacklin’ Community Award honors an industry organization for fostering community-level support of the Department of Tourism’s fall Rooster Rush campaign.

·         The Ruth Ziolkowski Outstanding Hospitality & Customer Service Award recognizes individuals that have made an effort to provide remarkable service and have demonstrated an outstanding spirit of hospitality, warmth and genuine kindness to visitors.

For more information about the conference or to register, visit

Custer State Park to Host Snowshoe Hikes

Photo: Don White/

January 6, 2018

CUSTER STATE PARK, S.D. – Custer State Park will be offering winter snowshoe hikes again this year in the months of January, February, and March.

The Game Lodge Snowshoe Hike will be held Saturday, January 13 and will guide participants through a pine forest overlooking Game Lodge Campground, near Grace Coolidge Creek. The two-mile hike is considered easy and will take nearly two hours to complete.

The hike will depart at 10 a.m. from the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center.  If there is enough snow, snowshoes are provided; however, reservations are required to checkout snowshoes by calling 605-255-4515.  If the amount of snow does not allow for snowshoeing, a guided hike will still be held.

There is no cost for participation in the hikes or snowshoe checkout; however, a park entrance license is required.

Participants should dress appropriately for the weather, as temperatures in the Black Hills can be unpredictable. Any footwear can be used with snowshoes; however, waterproof hiking boots are recommended.

Custer State Park will host two other snowshoe hikes this winter.  The Lover’s Leap Snowshoe Hike will be held twice on February 10 at 10:00 a.m. and Noon.  The Sylvan Lake Snowshoe Hike will be held March 10 at 10:00 a.m.   Reservations for these hikes can also be made by calling 605-255-4515.

There is a snowshoe checkout opportunity until April 1, 2018.  Those interested in checking out a pair of snowshoes and hiking in various areas of the park can stop by the Custer State Park Visitor Center.  There is no charge to check out snowshoes.  The hours of the visitor center are 10am-4pm Monday – Friday and 9am-4pm on Saturday and Sunday.  Snowshoes are not checked out the day of scheduled guided hikes.

Wind Cave National Park Offers Free Tours on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Visitors taking free tours of Wind Cave on January 15 will view a rare calcite cave formation called boxwork. (NPS Photo)

January 6, 2018

Hot Springs, S.D.  – Wind Cave National Park will offer free tours on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, January 15. Natural Entrance Tours will be offered at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. These tours are 75 minutes in length and traverse 300 stairs beginning at the cave’s Walk-In Entrance. A tour of the Garden of Eden area of the cave will be offered at 3 p.m. This hour-long tour has 150 stairs. Both tours will view the boxwork cave formation for which the cave is famous.

Tickets are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. All tours begin at the visitor center located ½-mile off US Highway 385.

For more information, contact Wind Cave National Park at 605-745-4600

Black Hills National Forest Employees Receive National Awards

Custer, South Dakota, – Two employees on the Black Hills National Forest recently received National recognition and awards for superior performance in their fields.

Justin McConkey, Range Management Staff Officer, Hell Canyon Ranger District. photo: NFS

Justin McConkey, Range Management Staff Officer, Hell Canyon Ranger District, received the National Rangeland Management Award. McConkey has worked on numerous projects to improve range conditions including an Elk Mountain Water Development project that provided better water distribution for cattle grazing and wildlife. He has also built strong working relationships with permittees and other partners.

“Justin has shown strong leadership and knowledge of rangeland management for the Hell Canyon District range program,” said Tracy Anderson, Hell Canyon District Ranger. “He takes tremendous pride in ensuring our range lands are managed to standard and ‘gets down in the dirt’ working with our permittees. His dedication, honest approach and ability to listen has resulted in buy-in from his staff and our partners. This National award and recognition is well deserved.”

Black Hills National Forest Silviculturist Blaine Cook, Supervisor’s Office. Photo: NFS

Black Hills National Forest Silviculturist Blaine Cook, Supervisor’s Office, recently received the Presidential Field Forester award from the Society of American Foresters.

The Presidential Field Foresters Award recognizes foresters who have dedicated their professional careers to the application of forestry on the ground using sound scientific methods and adaptive management strategies. The award is presented to individuals who have displayed uncommon talent, skill, and innovative methods to achieve a record of excellence in the application of forest management.

“Blaine is a great asset to the Black Hills National Forest.  All those that work with Blaine know he is very knowledgeable and experienced when it comes to managing our forest health and vegetation management challenges here on the Forest. We are glad to have him on our team,” said Brian Jackson, Natural Resources Staff Officer, Black Hills National Forest.

For more information on the Black Hills National Forest, visit


The South Dakota Department of Tourism Announces Openings at Interstate Information Centers


January 4, 2018

PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota Department of Tourism is now accepting applications to fill seasonal positions for travel counselors and supervisors at six Welcome Center locations along interstates 29 and 90.

Travel counselors are needed from May through September (or October, depending on location) to assist visitors with travel needs, answer questions and promote South Dakota’s travel opportunities. Applicants must be high school graduates and possess knowledge of South Dakota’s history and visitor attractions, basic computer skills, and excellent communication skills.

The Welcome Centers are open seven days a week from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and are located along interstates 29 and 90 near New Effington, Salem, Chamberlain, Vivian and Spearfish. There will also be travel counselors stationed within the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center at I-90 Exit 131, which is located about 20 miles east of Wall, S.D.

The centers near Chamberlain and Spearfish will remain open until mid-October to accommodate out-of-state hunters and increased numbers of travelers during the fall season. The Minuteman Missile Site Visitor Center will also be staffed with travel counselors through mid-October. All other centers will close in mid-September.

Seasonal applications may be obtained from South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation offices, or by visiting

The application deadline is Feb. 2, 2018. Contact Nate Johnson with the South Dakota Department of Tourism at 1-800-952-3625 with questions. The employment announcement and the job description can be found at this Dropbox link:

The South Dakota Department of Tourism is comprised of Tourism and the South Dakota Arts Council. The Department is led by Secretary James D. Hagen.