The muddy, pot-holed track was so last season. The Hill City School District’s Ranger Field now boasts a six-lane, all-weather running track.
It also has a new concession stand and restroom building, as well as 300-seat bleachers where previously none existed.
A year and a half after a Hill City resident formed a nonprofit organization to raise funds and fix Ranger Field, the sporting venue’s new look will be officially unveiled Sunday.
Since March 2016, the Ranger Field Renovation Committee has raised $900,000 of the $950,000 needed to complete the renovation, said its founder, Mike Welu. The project was originally estimated to cost $1.175 million.
The committee, which includes Hill City entrepreneurs Stacia Peters and Pat Wiederhold, received donations from some 200 individuals and groups, Welu said.
The first group donor was the Hill City Senior Center, which gave $10,000. Many retirees also sent in checks, some for more than $1,000.
“There were some surprises,” Welu said. “Sometimes I thought, 'How could they afford this?'”
The biggest donation, $200,000, came from Scheels sporting goods company, where Welu worked as an executive before he retired in 2014. Welu and his wife started the fundraising campaign by giving $100,000.
The names of major donors, including 1880 Train and Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch, are listed on permanent signs at the field.
Ranger Field was built after the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the site, gave the local school district a special-use permit in 1971. In the decades since, the Forest Service has a record of only two improvements made to the site: installing lighting and refurbishing the track, though the dates of those improvements were not known.
The Hill City School District is hosting a program at 6 p.m. Sunday to thank all the donors and to formally open the running track. An hour before that, members of the public are invited to walk or run on the track.
“It is amazing to see so many community members, alumni and organizations donate to this meaningful project,” district Superintendent Mike Hanson said. “We look forward to everyone, community members and our students, enjoying the new Ranger track and field.”
The school district donated the new bleachers, bringing down the project price tag by $50,000, said Welu. Rapid City-based Scull Construction, the contractor, and its subcontractors were also able to operate below their estimated costs, he said.
But one part of the plan needed to be scrapped, since the money didn’t stretch far enough: laying asphalt on the parking lot.
In the meantime, the muddy, uneven ground has been leveled and covered with gravel. Parking bumpers have also been installed.
The renovation project took a year longer than Welu expected. He initially hoped Ranger Field would have been ready in time for the 2016 football season.
The rains last summer and fall, as well as the unusually cold winter, contributed to construction delays. But Welu’s goal has finally been accomplished, and he can go back to taking it easy in retirement.