South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks is awarding a $48,913 grant from its Recreational Trails Program to South Dakota Mines students who are designing and building a mountain bike trail on the grassland hills behind the campus.
The project began 12 years ago as the "Turbine Trail" after the wind turbine perched above campus. M.R. Hansen, an emeritus professor of civil engineering, was one of those behind the initial idea and said it promotes "well-being and physical activity on campus."
Mines faculty in the department of civil and environmental engineering like Jon Kellar, a professor of metallurgy and materials science, are carrying the idea forward.
The first phase of the renewed effort involved a senior design project by a group of civil engineering students who did survey work. Mines student volunteers then began work on building the trails by hand.
So far, the students have completed a trail from University Loop Road halfway up the hill west of Connolly and Palmerton Hills. Once this section is complete, the path will continue across the slopes behind the Wellness Center and then around the grassy hills above O'Harra Stadium and loop back on itself.
“South Dakota Mines and the surrounding Black Hills have some world class mountain biking trails within 10 minutes of campus,” said Fernando Vazquez, a recent Mines graduate with a degree in metallurgical engineering. “This project will add more miles of trails to those already in the area.”
Vazquez said the grant will allow the group to cut down the timeline for construction, as well as get better GPS equipment and rent a mini-excavator. The group will also purchase slope stabilization materials for the trail "that will make the project sustainable and durable for the long term."
Vazquez, who is now employed in Rapid City with Endlas, will remain involved in the trail building project as an alumni adviser to assist future student teams with the project. Kyle Caudle, an associate math professor and advisor of the campus mountain biking club, will also stay involved.
A press release states that the trail project isn't just about enhancing recreation opportunities close to campus, but that the effort includes an educational component. Professors in the civil engineering department are planning a land reclamation study along the trail.
The area also has potential for archaeology studies around the "Smelter Hill" area above O'Harra Stadium. In the early history of the school, gold and other metals were processed on this site.
The grant funding from the state will come as an 80% reimbursement after the work is complete. State and university officials are working through the clearance process and drafting a grant agreement that will allow the project to begin. Work on the trail associated with the grant will begin within the coming year.
The Recreational Trails Program has also helped fund trails on Skyline Drive and Buzzards Roost, and the fund will help build new trails at Hansen Larsen Park and M Hill.
Dean of Students Patricia Mahon has backed the project from its earliest inception.
“This is a wonderful enhancement for the university. It ties our campus with the bike path along the length of Rapid Creek,” Mahon said. “I am also pleased that this bike path, right outside our back door, connects South Dakota Mines students to recreational opportunities that are found across the beautiful Black Hills and Badlands.”