A proposal has been made to impose a $10 fee for entering Black Elk Wilderness to access Harney Peak. South Dakota and Custer State Park officials are opposed. It was front page news on Sunday, April 2, 2000, in the Souix Falls Argus-Leader:
When I sat down to post this, I left the second page of the story. I will post it later.
By Bob Kyes
CUSTER STATE PARK - James Margadant used to climb Harney Peak for solitudue. Now he hikes to the top of South Dakota's tallest peak to watch people.
"It'sa two-lane highway all the way," says the 55-year-old Rapid City resident. "Everybody and their dog wants to walk up the highest summit in South Dakota…For me anyway, the attraction these days has been to take a lunch and look at all the people who show up."
Lately, people are showing up in record numbers. Last year, 73,000 people hiked Harney, up from from about 38,000 in 1994.
That increase has prompted the U.S. Forest Servuce to consider charging hikers a fee to scramble up one of the state's most popular trails.
At the same time, National Park Service officials are looking into requiring permits for back-country camping in the remote reaches of the Badlands.
These are the first South Dakota signs of what is becoming a national problem -- overcrowding in state and national parks. The U.S. Department of Interior is struggling to accommodate growing crowds of summer visitors in national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite while preserving pristine outdoors experiences.
At 7,242 feet above sea-level, Harney is the highest peak between the Rocky Mountains and the French Alps, enchanting visitors with spectacular views of the Black Hills and beyond. Considered one of the most sacred sites in Lakota culture, Harney rises from the heart of the Black Elk Wilderness, a federally protected 10,000 acre natural area that's bounded by Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park -- the state's two most popular tourist attractions. The two draw nearly 4.5 million visitors each year.
Although Harney Peak may conquered by any number of trails, the most popular is the No. 9 trail begins near Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. It's 3 1/2 miles to the top from the Sulvan trailhead and it's easy going most of the way.
More than a third of all hikers -- 200-plus walkers a day during the summer -- reach Harney via the Sylvan trailhead, and that's the center of the problem. The trail begins in the state park, but quickly crosses into the federal jurisdction of the Black Elk Wilderness.