EDGEMONT | It started with a simple pitch.
In April, local businessman Kerry Barker approached the Edgemont School District with an idea. His family owned some land on the west side of town, and Barker thought it would be an ideal place to build a running track.
The school district didn't have one, and for years the track teams trained for competitions by racing down city streets or lapping the football field.
After talking with school athletic director Lane Ostenson about the amount of dirt that would need to be moved on his family's property, Barker and Ostenson agreed it'd make more sense to build the track on campus. A total of $40,000 was budgeted to build the track behind the school.
And then, as Ostenson puts it, the project "just snowballed."
As word spread around this community of less than 800, residents and businesses began coming forward, volunteering their time and professional services to make other improvements. A project that started with a $40,000 budget grew into a major upgrade of the school's athletics facilities.
All told, Barker and Ostenson estimate that the amount of donated materials and services is easily in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The dirt work alone that Barker has contributed, Ostenson said as an example, would have cost the school $250,000.
"Everything that we’ve needed and asked for," he said, "people have come through and helped us out.”
Work on the track began in June. Barker's son, Cody Barker, helped get the project off the ground. "He was very excited for it," Kerry Barker said.
Kerry was grooming Cody to eventually take his spot at the company where he is currently vice president, Barker Concrete & Construction.
Shortly before 12:30 p.m. on June 21, Cody was driving a commercial vehicle near Shawnee, Wyo., when the front passenger tire of the truck failed. The vehicle left the highway, hit a delineator post and went over a culvert in the ditch.
Cody, 25, died of injuries suffered in the crash. For some people involved in the project, Ostenson said, Cody's accident gave them "a new purpose for getting (it) done."
Because of the outpouring of support both before and after the accident, the school has been able to make many other improvements. One of the largest is a new underground sprinkler system for the football field, which was also rotated 45 degrees to make room for the track.
Three new scoreboards — one for the football field and two for the basketball gym — also were added. Still taking shape are a new concession stand and press box.
On a recent blustery afternoon, volunteer Mark Jones took a break from working on the press box to reflect on all of the changes that were taking place. In addition to providing storage space, the 2,100-square-foot, two-story building will also serve as a meeting room for coaches.
“I just think we all want a nice community to live in,” said Jones, a locomotive engineer for BNSF Railway. "And this is one way to do that."
Ostenson said that once all of the improvements are finished — the track is scheduled to be completed in the spring — the school's athletics facilities will rank "up there with most of the other schools in South Dakota,” Ostenson said.
A sign of progress
The Edgemont School District has an enrollment of around 150 students, in grades K-12. About 80 percent of students in grades 5-12 play at least one sport, Ostenson said.
Ostenson went to high school in Custer and later moved to the Last Chance area in Colorado, where he taught with his wife, Susan. After their daughter, Jenna, was born, the couple decided they wanted to move back to South Dakota to be closer to family. They've now been in Edgemont 14 years.
"We’re moving forward," he added. “I think a project like this shows progress in a small community.”
That progress is welcome in a town that has been through periods of boom and bust since it was incorporated, starting with the arrival of the railroad in 1889. During World War II, an ammunition depot was built south of Edgemont and at its peak employed around 5,000 people. It was decommissioned in the late '60s.
The discovery of uranium deposits near town in 1951 led to a mining boom that lasted roughly two decades. Mining could return, as a new uranium project has been proposed for the same area northwest of Edgemont.
"Edgemont is a great place to live, work, retire or raise a family," Mayor Jerry Dibble wrote on the city's website. "Our community has a great school system, a friendly downtown, a charming 100 year old city park, miles and miles of national land for outdoor activities of all types plus the famous Black Hills are just minutes away."
Soon, Dibble can add a brand-new track to that list.