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No matter the rumors you’ve heard, or the assumptions that have been made, we can all agree that special places like Spearfish Canyon and Bismarck Lake need to be protected.

Plain and simple, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks would like to be the caretakers of these wonderful places. That’s why Gov. Daugaard proposed creating Spearfish Canyon State Park and including Bismarck Lake as part of Custer State Park.

We believe we are the best organization to preserve and protect the future of these areas. We have the experience, we care for the environment, and we work with and for the people. Balancing use and providing responsible stewardship is what drives our vision for these sites.

We all wish we could hit pause, to keep these areas just as they are, but that’s unrealistic. We can’t turn away and ignore the overuse and lack of structured services that are hurting these areas. We can’t just leave it alone and naively think it will stay the same.

Visitors will keep coming and while most have good intentions, we face the inevitability of loving these special and sensitive areas too much. It happened at Roughlock Falls before Barrick transferred the land to GF&P.

Without the proper staff and expertise, Barrick knew they were unable to manage the area responsibly. As a result, the area suffered abuse from overuse that at one point hideous orange fences were put up, destroying the scenic value and barring public access. Now, under GF&P ownership and management, it is a place of beauty — safe, user-friendly and a place South Dakotans can be proud of.

Leaving it alone does not equal preservation.

With sound planning and ample public input, we can find a balance to maintain Little Spearfish Canyon’s natural features with a necessary amount of improvements, allowing us to both protect those features and allow the public to safely experience them.

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GF&P can continually protect and care for these areas for the future without the looming threat of sudden campground closures, the uncertainty of unpassed budgets, or the inability to guard against and react to sudden dangers like the Mountain Pine Beetle. We have the local knowledge, presence, experience, passion and security of funds to manage these areas now and for future generations.

A state park designation guarantees protection of these places for perpetuity. And the public input process guarantees that the people of South Dakota will be partners in the planning process.

We think Spearfish Canyon State Park is a great idea. But that’s all it is at this point — an idea. Contrary to what you might have heard, no planning decisions have been made. It’s up to the people of South Dakota to help contribute ideas, concerns and opportunities to mold it into the image that is the most effective.

Now is the time for you to get informed and get involved, because leaving these areas alone is not the same as protecting them.

Katie Ceroll is the director of the Division of Parks and Recreation for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

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