Decades ago, Custer State Park’s annual roundup of its buffalo herd was a minor event, attended by perhaps 200 people.
On Monday, an estimated 14,000 people will trek to the park to watch more than 1,000 bison corralled at the 46th annual Buffalo Roundup.
“The roundup is an activity that we would do regardless if anybody showed up or not,” said Craig Pugsley, visitor services coordinator for the park.
But he is happy to accommodate the crowds.
“All the park sites are filled. The lodges are full. So is the town of Custer,” Pugsley said. “It’s a great economic shot in the arm at a time when we really need it here in the Black Hills.”
Those thousands of people coming to the Roundup will have one thing in common: an early morning.
The Custer State Park gates open at 6:15 a.m. Monday, and while Pugsley said the people who line up at 4 a.m. or earlier are overdoing it, he recommended attendees arrive no later than 8 a.m.
It takes about an hour to travel from Rapid City to the park, even without the added traffic of thousands of cars headed to the same destination.
The event itself begins about 9:30 a.m., when volunteers on horseback and in vehicles begin herding the park’s estimated 1,300 bison towards corrals. If all goes according to plan -- which Pugsley said is usually the case -- the huge animals will stampede past two viewing areas set up for the human spectators.
Herding the buffalo are between 40 and 50 riders on horseback, including state employees and civilians chosen for their equestrian skills. Those volunteers go through extensive safety training, which Pugsley said has kept injuries to a minimum over the decades. To Pugsley’s knowledge, no spectators have ever been injured during the roundup.
In addition to the spectacle of the stampeding bison, visitors will be able to buy pancakes, sausages and beverages at both viewing areas in the morning. Lunch will be served after the buffalo are rounded up.
That usually happens around noon. Until the bison are in the corrals, visitors must remain in the viewing areas.
Once in the corrals, the buffalo will be inspected, counted and vaccinated, and 205 animals will be selected to be sold at auctions later in the fall.
Weather at the roundup can be unpredictable, but National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Calderon said it should be dry and calm Monday morning.
Temperatures will start in the mid-40s early Monday morning and gradually warm up into the 60s and 70s.
Pugsley advised visitors to dress in layers and to bring blankets or chairs to sit in -- as well as binoculars and cameras.
The roundup is the culmination of a weekend of activities at the park. The Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival runs Saturday and Sunday at the park and includes art exhibitions and a chili cook-off. A public tasting in the chili cook-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. today.
Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or firstname.lastname@example.org