The threat of an unauthorized backcountry encampment has shut down part of Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills, but a park official declined to identify the group that wants to start the camp.
The park issued a news release Monday afternoon announcing that two park roads and a portion of Wind Cave’s backcountry are under closure orders until further notice.
The only explanation in the release was this sentence: “The closure was established to protect natural and cultural resources and avoid a possible conflict among visitor use activities in this part of the park.”
In a subsequent phone interview with the Journal, Lennie Ramacher, the park’s assistant chief of interpretation, said the park was contacted during the past several weeks by a group that wants to establish a recurring winter camp with structures, firewood and upward of 50 people somewhere along a maintained road in the Black Hills.
Ramacher said park officials offered the use of an established group campsite but were not able to reach an agreement with the group. He said park officials have since received information that the group might try to establish an unauthorized camp in the park’s backcountry.
“The information we received led us to the conclusion that was a risk,” Ramacher said.
Ramacher said the partial closures were imposed as a precaution against the group trying to set up an unauthorized camp. He declined to divulge the identity of the group and said it would become public only upon the signing of a special-use permit.
The Journal, meanwhile, found a woman on Facebook who posted a video Nov. 13 of herself explaining that she had requested permission to start a camp in the park. The woman said in the video that the camp was intended to coincide with a star alignment of significance to Native American spirituality. But she walked away from the request, she said in the video, after park officials tried to make her put the camp where they wanted it, and tried to impose a fee and a cap on the number of people in the camp.
The Journal tried to contact the woman Monday but was unsuccessful.
The closures announced by Wind Cave National Park took effect Friday. The closures are described as applying to NPS Road 5, which is closed to vehicles from the southern boundary of Wind Cave National Park to the junction with S.D. Highway 87; and NPS Road 6, which is closed from the junction of NPS Road 5 to the northern boundary of Wind Cave National Park. Both roads remain open to pedestrian use from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
A nightly closure is in effect for all park areas described as east of U.S. Highway 385 from the southern boundary of Wind Cave National Park to the junction with state Highway 87, and east of state Highway 87 to the northern boundary of Wind Cave National Park. Those areas are closed to all entry and use between 5:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. The nightly closure also applies to pedestrian use on NPS Roads 5 and 6.
U.S. Highway 385 and S.D. Highway 87 remain open. Visitor center hours and cave tours at the park are also operating as normal.