South Dakota State Parks remain popular getaways

 South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) officials say state parks saw high numbers of visitors in 2017. The state park campgrounds hosted more than 342,000 nights of camping last year, up 3.8 percent and continuing an upward trend that has been steadily growing for over a decade.

But the real highlight of 2017 according to Katie Ceroll, South Dakota State Parks director, is the opportunities created by several new and expanded services in the parks.

“Camping is widely popular in the state parks,” she said in a release. “But we offer so much more. Whether you’re staying overnight or stopping in for the day, parks feature visitor centers, special events and other recreational opportunities to enhance your visit.”

Ceroll noted several accomplishments in 2017 that drew people to the parks.

In May, Good Earth State Park near Sioux Falls opened its visitor center and has already surpassed 80,000 guests. In addition, the park offered over 180 programs on topics from cultural history to snowshoeing. Good Earth is also a popular gathering place for group activities.

“The visitor center meeting rooms and patio are becoming popular venues for meetings and special events,” said Ceroll. “An outdoor amphitheater will be constructed this spring, which will be used for school groups, programming and group rentals.”

In June, over 11,600 visitors attended the 40th Annual Fort Sisseton Historical Festival. The three-day event included a military encampment, pie-baking contest, musical performances and shooting competitions.

Water recreation was boosted in June with the dedication of the Jay Heath Canoe and Kayak Trail along the Big Sioux River. The water trail features new canoe/kayak campsites at three state parks, as well as several city and county parks. A GPS-based website provides details on public access points along the river from Sioux Falls to Sioux City, Iowa.

In September, Custer State Park opened the rejuvenated Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. The interactive center is designed to introduce, educate and encourage families to explore the natural world on their own.

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“These and other new features are great ways to enhance your experience in the parks,” said Ceroll. “I encourage folks to get out in 2018 and discover all your parks have to offer.”

GFP food plot program offers free seed

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) food plot program was developed nearly 50 years ago to assist landowners in providing winter food sources for wildlife. Landowners can receive free corn or sorghum seed to plant each spring, plus a payment to help offset planting costs. The program took a step forward in 2015, offering landowners a third seed option, called the brood mix.

The brood mix is an annual mixture of cover crop species (i.e. canola, flax, millet, radish, sunflower), designed to flower from spring through fall and produce seed for wildlife to forage on during winter. By flowering, the brood mix provides pollinator habitat that traditional corn and sorghum food plots lack. Pollinating insects (i.e. bees and butterflies) thrive in areas with flowering plants. Insects comprise nearly 100% of a pheasant chick’s diet, therefore making habitats with high insect numbers for pheasant chicks to forage a key component of pheasant production.

Landowners enrolled in the program still retain and may regulate all hunting access privileges; however they cannot charge anyone a fee in exchange for hunting access. For more information and to find a habitat advisor in your area, visit http://habitat.sd.gov/ or contact a GFP biologist at 605.353.7145.

Seed is typically distributed in May, so it is important that interested landowners get signed up as soon as possible.

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.