Badlands National Park will have a new, modern visitor center in the Cedar Pass section of the park due to grants and contributions from notable organizations.
The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust granted $3.3 million for the project. The Badlands Natural History Association will pledge $1.8 million, and Badlands National Park Conservancy will contribute $100,000 toward the project.
Helmsley Charitable Trust trustee Walter Panzirer said the trust wanted to be a catalyst for the Badlands.
"We are so excited we joined this partnership because this park, their visitor center, is older," Panzirer said. "It was built in the '50s and '60s, and majorly needs renovation to be to ADA standards, and also share the treasure of Badlands National Park."
He said the new center will be able to accommodate the increasing number of visitors and tell the story of the Lakota culture.
The new center will provide park visitors with more opportunities to learn about Badlands National Park's natural, cultural, historical and recreational resources; improve scientific study and understanding of its paleontological and geological resources; and help people connect with the past and present history, culture, and heritage of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Lakota People.
The current Ben Reifel Visitor Center is located on the North side of the park near Cedar Pass. The center is named after Reifel, also known as Lone Feather, the first congressman elected with Lakota heritage, to represent the state's first congressional district.
Panzirer said this is a community project, not just a Helmsley Charitable Trust project.
“The National Park Foundation is grateful to the Helmsley Charitable Trust for their investment in what will be a stellar visitor center experience that will welcome people to this stunning national park for generations to come,” said Will Shafroth, National Park Foundation President and CEO. “This project is a true testament to what partnerships make possible.”
National Park Service Director Bert Frost said the parks service started a development plan in 2015.
"If you know anything about the Parks Service, we don't do anything fast," Frost said. "The plan has been carefully considered. We refined it, we reviewed it. ... We got to the point where we're going to move into preliminary design for the visitor center, but we can't do these types of projects without partners."
Frost said the $5.2 million going toward the center will be used to leverage federal dollars.
"The federal government has a responsibility, the federal government will step up," he said.
Sam Benne, Badlands Natural History Association Board president, said the board has been planning a new center for the past 25 years and saving money for it.
Secretary of Tourism Jim Hagen said he's excited about the future development the new visitor center will lead to.
"This is a world-class park... it is deserving of a world-class visitor center and other facilities as well," Hagen said. "Over the last 10 years we have seen the interest in this park, especially globally, just explode. We are hearing from visitors literally weekly from all over the globe talking about Badlands National Park."
He said he believes the financial gift will be transformational for the park. He also said it's been a crazy summer and will be a record-breaking summer, although final tourism numbers won't be in until January.
Hagen said his department has been aggressive in telling their story on a global scale, which "has created a huge spotlight for South Dakota."
Plans for the new center are still in the works.
All four COVID-19 deaths the South Dakota Department of Health reported Monday were from the Black Hills. Two men and two women were included in the deaths and two were in their 50s and two were over 70. Pennington, Meade, Lawrence and Fall River counties all reported deaths.
Pennington County was responsible for 130 of the 528 new infections reported in the state Monday. Active cases in the county grew to 2,045. Active cases have increased with every report since July 1 when there were only 45 active cases here. Active cases in the state increased by almost 200 to 7,226.
Hospitalizations dipped below 200 for the first time in September. There are 197 patients in South Dakota hospitals with 62 people in ICU and 44 on ventilators. Black Hills hospitals are treating 95 patients with 34 in ICU and 26 on ventilators.
Children under 19 are responsible for 153 new infections and there were 84 new cases for people in their 20s. Thirty-one patients over 70 tested positive for Monday's report.
Meade County had 38 positive tests and Lawrence County added 28 more. Butte County added 20 new infections and there were seven in Custer County and five in Fall River County.
Minnehaha County reported 106 new infections Monday and there were 32 in Lincoln County. Brown County reported 28 new infections and there were 27 in Brookings County. Codington County recorded 10 positive tests and there were eight each in Davison and Dewey counties. Corson and Union counties each reported seven new infections and there were six each in Hughes and Hutchinson counties. Beadle, Oglala-Lakota and Spink counties each had four new cases and there were three each in Charles Mix, Lake, Stanley and Ziebach counties.
Nine counties reported two new cases each and there was one each in 13 other counties.
The Douglas School District's Board of Education voted 3-2 to pass a school reopening plan outlining what measures will be taken when COVID-19 positive cases reach certain thresholds in the district's population.
The plan's case percentages are based on a population that includes both staff and students.
A full, detailed version of the plan is available on the school district's website at https://www.besd.net.
The plan details include four thresholds:
Threshold 1: Schools will remain open when the number of total positive COVID-19 cases is less than 1.5%. Face coverings will be voluntary.
Thresholds 2 and 3: Schools will remain open when total positive cases are between 1.55% and 4%, though individual classrooms, departments or buildings may be closed as determined necessary based by administration based on local attendance data and continuity of operations. Face coverings will be required when a three-foot distance cannot be maintained and close proximity is longer than 15 minutes.
Threshold 4: Administration will bring a recommendation to the Douglas Board of Education regarding the best delivery system when positive cases reach 8.1% or over, which will include the consideration of school closures and moving classes to virtual learning.
Board President Cathleen Melendez noted that a committee comprised of parents, staff and board members worked to provide operational continuity within the plan, which came up in discussions as a top priority.
Operational phases will a minimum of two weeks in duration to preserve continuity, which is described in an added statement within the 2020-2021 school reopening plan.
Two people spoke during the public forum portion of the meeting, which preceded the board's discussions of the plan during Monday night's meeting. Both are mothers of children in the district and spoke in opposition of mask mandates for students.
Board Member Chris Misselt commented on the plan and the role school districts have when implementing safety measures related to COVID-19. Misselt said he attended the Rapid City School District's Board of Education meeting last week, including the public comment portion which lasted five hours.
"I don't know whether representatives of the district or other board members took the time to do that or not," Misselt said. "It was interesting, it was disappointing. One of the most tragic things about that meeting is the things we're talking about in committee and here as a board, so much of what we're talking about has nothing to do with the virus. It has everything to do with politics, social agendas, it has everything to with people firmly entrenched in their encampments and people taking sides and division."
Misselt admitted that he can be an opinionated person at times, but expressed his disappointment with the lack of a realistic expectations in the statements of those against and for certain issues related to COVID-19 plans.
"We pulled the trigger hard and fast in March of 2020, and we expended every bit of good will and every bit of tolerance that the public had, we went too fast, too early, and ran out of gas," Misselt said.
Misselt said students, particularly those in grades K-12, are least prone to hospitalization.
"Pacifying people and selling the 'it's for the children' narrative. We've expended hundreds of workforce hours on this problem," Misselt said, pointing out how little of the audience is given to morbid obesity, diabetes and other comorbidities present in everyone's everyday lives.
"But we're focused on something that has a negligible effect on the majority of our population," he added.
Misselt then reassured anyone who's immunocompromised or vulnerable to COVID-19 that the district will do everything they can to keep them healthy.
"We will care for you, I promise you. As the parent of an immunocompromised child for years I know that terror personally," Misselt said. "But I'm not going to let everyone live in a state of anxiety from a false narrative."
Misselt and Board Member Ben Frerichs voted against a motion to pass the plan as presented during the meeting.