The 55th annual Buffalo Roundup staff aren't sure how many people to expect this year, but will operate with fewer hands due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kobee Stalder, Custer State Park visitor services program manager, said Friday the roundup typically has 150-200 people helping out. This year, it will see 120-130 people compared to about 170 last year.
“This year with everything happening and the state of the world, we didn’t get all the volunteers and seasonal workers we normally do,” Stalder said.
He said there will be about 60 horseback riders and 15 vehicles guiding the herd in the park.
This year’s roundup will start at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 25, and features about 1,450 bison, which is a little more than last year.
Stalder said the park’s herd has grown a little over the last five years. He also said the park received more moisture this summer, so there’s a little more range for the animals to graze.
During the roundup, park employees and volunteers will sort, brand, vaccinate and test the herd. This will help the staff randomly select bison from each group for the annual auction.
About 400 bison will be up for auction, and all proceeds will go toward the state park system’s daily operation. Stalder said the auction group will range from bull calves and cow calves to breeding bulls and mature cows.
Stalder said the park doesn’t have a strong number predicted for attendance this year, but the 32 full-time staff members are preparing as if it will be close to normal.
Last year’s roundup saw a little over 19,000 people and averages in the 19,000 to 20,000 range. Gov. Kristi Noem will once again be in attendance and ride with the herd.
“We would do it anyway if crowds weren’t involved,” Stalder said. “Not only is it a great visitor experience, but it’s a critical herd management tool.”
This year’s roundup will be live-streamed on the South Dakota Public Broadcasting website. Stalder said the event is outdoors and there’s plenty of room for people to spread out, but those who may not feel comfortable attending due to COVID-19 can watch online.
Hand sanitizer will also be available in viewing areas, near restrooms and at the arts festival.
The roundup will start at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Custer State Park. Spectators may watch from the North or South viewing areas. Parking opens at 6:15 a.m. and closes at 9:30 a.m. A state park pass is not required that day. Those viewing are asked to remain in the viewing areas until all buffalo are corralled, which should be around noon.
The annual arts festival will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday near the State Game Lodge. It will feature western and bluegrass entertainment and vendors.
The events also overlap with the 8th annual Crazy Horse Special Fall Volksmarch, which is Saturday and Sunday. The Volksmarch is a 10K or about 6.2-mile round-trip hike. Gates open at 6 a.m. with registration at 8 a.m. Hikers must register at the starting point. The trail closes at 4 p.m.