GOOD: Strider bikes, which started in the basement of a Rapid City home, celebrated its 10th anniversary on Saturday with a big event featuring many smiling faces. The company that makes pedal-less bikes for toddlers has grown into an international manufacturer that has 25 distributors for 70 countries and sells a half-million bikes annually. It also holds the Strider world championship races that have been held in Sarasota, Florida, Salt Lake City and Rapid City. And while Ryan McFarland, who started the company with his father, Joe, and Gene Woodle, could have moved the headquarters to another state or bigger city, he has chosen to stay in Rapid City where he has 34 employees. Strider bikes motto is “inspiring children to ride,” but the local company also serves as an inspiration for those who dream of making their own mark in the world.
BAD: Pheasant hunting will likely be more challenging this season, but more importantly a trend is emerging that could weaken an underpinning of the state’s economy. Game, Fish & Parks released last week the results of its annual pheasant brood survey and the results raised concerns. It was the second worse survey in 10 years, with the index showing 1.68 birds every 10 miles. It was 3.05 in 2016. In western South Dakota, the per mile index is down 44 percent compared with last year and 47 percent from the 10-year average, which also is down compared to previous decades. GF&P cites recent harsh winters and drought conditions for the second consecutive year for the lower counts. It is not just the joy of hunting that is at stake. South Dakota is known as the pheasant-hunting capital of the nation, attracting thousands of well-heeled hunters. In 2015, for example, nearly 85,000 nonresident hunters spent more than $140 million in the state, according to GF&P. If the decline in pheasants continues, it will be felt throughout the state.
UGLY: The management — or perhaps more accurately the mismanagement — of South Dakota’s Gear Up program was once again on display last week. State Secretary of Education Melody Schoop had previously denied knowing of any significant problems with the program until 2015 when she notified a Mid-Central Educational Cooperative official that the state was terminating its relationship with the nonprofit. Hours later, Scott Westerhuis, a Mid-Central employee, would kill his four children, wife and then himself, giving state residents an awful introduction into what would become known as a multi-million dollar scandal. Last week, Schoop informed a legislative committee that she was notified in 2011, 2012 and 2013 of brewing problems with Gear Up, a federally funded program that aims to encourage low-income students to go to college. As of this date, at least $1.4 million remains unaccounted for and three Mid-Central employees are facing criminal charges. One can only wonder what might have changed if the state had responded sooner to the festering problems with Gear Up.