SAVOY | The settlement of a lawsuit has resolved uncertainty surrounding public access to Spearfish Falls, and it has also sparked changes to the visitor experience there and removed a minor obstacle to a proposed state park in Spearfish Canyon.
The lawsuit was filed in 2014 by members of the Romano family, who own a cabin very near the falls. The family bought the cabin and some land around it during the decades when Spearfish Falls (also known as Little Spearfish Falls) was fully or partially dry, due to the Homestake Mining Company’s diversion of Little Spearfish Creek.
The Romano family had easements — legal documents guaranteeing access across someone else’s property — that allowed them to park above the dry falls and walk to their cabin via a bridge across the creek behind the Latchstring Inn at Savoy.
Then, in 2003, the 50-foot falls roared back to life when Homestake quit diverting water from the creek. The flow of water over the falls was immediately followed by a flow of visitors who used the same bridge and parking area to access the falls that members of the Romano family used to reach their cabin. The family eventually sued Homestake and some other entities to regain privacy and control over the parking and bridge easements.
The lawsuit was settled Sept. 28. Public real-estate records show the agreement includes a transfer of ownership of the iron bridge behind the Latchstring Inn to the Romano family, and the elimination of public access to the bridge and the family’s small parking easement.
Public visitation to the falls has been rerouted over a separate, recently installed bridge a bit farther up the creek, which is accessible by a hiking trail beginning from the Latchstring Inn. Visitors to the falls must now hike that route down to the falls and back.
Matt Snyder, state park regional supervisor for the Black Hills, said an elevated viewing platform similar to the one at nearby Roughlock Falls will be built near the Latchstring Inn to provide visitors with another view of Spearfish Falls.
Eventually, the falls could be a key component of a state park in Spearfish Canyon. State government already owns Spearfish Falls and Roughlock Falls and some surrounding land, and federal legislation has been introduced to acquire some U.S. Forest Service land in the canyon that is considered necessary for the park plan.