A Meade County commissioner is seeking to improve signage on Interstate 90 in hopes of diverting travelers to local attractions.
Meade County Commissioner Alan Aker got a "thumbs up" from fellow commissioners after proposing the idea earlier this month at a commission meeting.
He took the idea to the Sturgis City Council Monday night and received a warm reception to the idea.
"The idea behind it is to highlight our access points and enhance and increase visitor traffic," Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie told the council members. "We want people to know we're more than just motorcycles."
Aker said he wants the county to work with the cities of Sturgis, Piedmont and Summerset to develop signage along Interstate 90 that will direct drivers to the Black Hills National Forest trailheads and byways, Bureau of Land Management trails and byways and other recreational and scenic opportunities in the county.
During the board's Nov. 5 meeting, Aker said signage along I-90 in Meade County is incomplete and inaccurate.
"Since the interstate was built, there have been several changes in the county, including new trailhead access to the national forest, new scenic and backcountry byways, and newly-incorporated towns," said Aker. "Meade County has the quickest access in the state to national forest trailheads and byways, and BLM trails and byways, but not a single sign along I-90 mentioning the national forest."
Aker said better signage for the county's tourist and recreation assets will help grow the communities' tourism sector, but also serves another purpose.
"It's a signal to the outer world about what kind of place we are. For businesses and people considering relocating here, it will be a large part of their first impression of our county," said Aker. "Finally, it's a signal to ourselves. Although we notice signs less and less as we drive by them every day, a new sign is a reminder of our opportunities to enjoy the public places we all own. Even years after a sign has been in place, it's a reminder of our ongoing opportunity to take a hike, take a ride, or see a museum."
Aker said Pennington and Lawrence counties are far ahead of Meade County in directing traffic toward recreational and visitor opportunities in those communities.
"Their I-90 signage identifies them as places people can enjoy the national forest, winter sports, historic districts, museums, fish hatcheries, fairgrounds and scenic drives," he said. "My intent is to present the South Dakota Department of Transportation a proposal that is backed by all the cities and towns and by the county, and that covers all the changes to signage that we'd like to see in the county."
Aker said he wished to discuss his proposal with the board, then refine it and and submit it to Meade County municipalities, chambers of commerce, businesses and citizens for their input.
In addition, Aker proposed adding Stagebarn Canyon Road to the list of County Scenic Byways and that the name of the current Captain Soelzer Road BLM Road be changed to Horse Soldier Road.
Aker said because he realizes some of the communities may not want additional visitors to some of the scenic and recreational areas, especially the smaller trailheads, and was sensitive to the downsides of additional traffic and use, he would carefully consider requests to remove some of those sensitive areas from his final proposal.
"I encourage potential opponents of some of these changes to carefully consider the positive effects of increased use of these resources, such as economic development, increased property value, potential for increased federal maintenance dollars and volunteer support as trailheads and trails experience more use, and health and educational benefits to local residents who respond to the signs," he said.
The city council voted to have Ainslie draw up a letter of support to accompany the county's request for additional signage.
Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce Director Heidi Kruse said she wholeheartedly supported additional signage.
"This would be fantastic," she said. "I can't tell you the number of veterans we get in our office who have taken a wrong turn and are uncertain where they need to go."
Aker's proposal includes the following changes:
On Westbound I-90, prior to Exit 52, one sign stating: Black Hawk, Summerset, Piedmont Next 4 Exits
At Exit 52, one sign stating: Black Hawk, Summerset Peaceful Pines Road at Exit 52, and a separate sign stating: SD Game Fish and Parks Department and Outdoor Campus and Park
At Exit 48, one sign stating: Summerset, Piedmont, Stage Stop Road
At Exit 48, a separate sign stating: National Forest Access and Stagebarn Canyon Scenic Byway
At Exit 46, one sign stating: Summerset, Piedmont, Elk Creek Road
At Exit 46, a separate sign stating: National Forest Access, Piedmont Fire Trail ATV Trailhead
At Exit 44, one sign stating: Piedmont and Chimney Canyon Road
At Exit 44, a separate sign stating: National Forest Access, Trailhead to Red Gate-White Gate Geologic Area
On Eastbound I-90, prior to Exit 44, one sign stating: Piedmont, Summerset, Black Hawk Next 4 Exits
At Exit 40, no change
At Exit 37, no change
At Exit 34, add Fort Meade National Recreation Area to sign stating Black Hills National Cemetery and VFW Memorial Park and Chapel
At Exit 34, a separate sign stating: National Forest Access, Centennial Trail Trailhead, Horse Soldier Road National Backcountry Byway
At Exit 32, change Vanocker Canyon sign to National Forest Access and Vanocker Canyon Scenic Byway
At Exit 32, add Bear Butte Lake and National Wildlife Refuge to Bear Butte State Park
At Exit 32, add National Historic Place and Cavalry Museum to Fort Meade VA Hospital
At Exit 30, no change
Aker also proposed adding directional signs for the trailheads, byways and other opportunities on service roads and at overpasses.
In addition, Aker proposed the county advise "Winter Sports" and "Deadwood National Historic District" at Exit 30, as well as the other Exit 17 to Deadwood in Lawrence County.
In response to a question from Commissioner Bob Bertolotto regarding whether I-90 signage should direct traffic toward Exit 30 or Exit 32 for the city of Sturgis, Aker said that was a city of Sturgis decision.
Bertolotto suggested having signage west of Exit 30, eastbound, to give drivers the opportunity to exit at either Exit 30 or Exit 32, to allow more visitors to take advantage of the Fort Meade Recreation Area.
"I guess I'm thinking both exits need to be addressed, maybe on the Vanocker Canyon road it's a scenario of 'Vanocker Canyon Exit 32,' but I think anyone coming from the west should have the capability of that also," said Bertolotto.
Aker said one big plus for advance notification of upcoming opportunities would be to allow families on vacation time for an "argument" about whether to see the Cavalry Museum at Fort Meade, or something else. "That was actually pointed out to me by one of our hosted families that's the reason there are three exits to Wall."
Aker said he would like to get the item on the city agendas for Sturgis, Summerset and Piedmont, and get input from those communities before it is brought back before the county commission.
Bertolotto commended Aker for his forward thinking, and said he was anxious to see some of the changes.
"For anyone not from this area, I think this will be a real asset for the addition of westbound signage," he said.