Spring has finally sprung in the beautiful Black Hills and we can’t wait to get outside for activity and recreation! Custer State Park is always a great place to spend time during the spring but after the recent Legion Lake fire, many wonder how that will impact our community’s ability to enjoy CSP.
Well, you will be very happy to hear that Custer is doing great! There are visible reminders of the December fire that spread across 54,000 acres in the state park. Many ponderosa pines in the central wooded area are blackened to the crown. The prairie grasses in the open areas were pretty crispy but the snows of February and March had a miraculous effect. Sadly, there were three bison that had to be euthanized, along with many of the mules but most wildlife escaped the fire.
Fires are not new to Custer State Park and, in fact, have forged the landscape of the park over many years. The Legion Lake Fire was the third largest in Black Hills history. In 2000 the Jasper Fire burned more than 80,000 acres west of Custer and the Oil Creek Fire in 2012 burned 63,000 acres in eastern Wyoming.
Thankfully, most of the popular visitor areas in Custer State Park were spared from this recent fire, allowing us to continue to enjoy camping, hiking, biking, swimming, fishing and other activities.
There are nine campgrounds in the park, open year-round. There is a horse camp and cabins in Blue Bell, a game lodge. The area around the Lodge was spared, but fires spread by wind to the southern areas of the park including Badger Hole. You’ll notice a thinning of trees in many areas. But there are many things to see and enjoy at Custer State Park and we encourage you to visit this spring.
The State Game Lodge and the lodges at Blue Bell, Sylvan Lake and Creekside were unscathed and the Visitor Center, which opened in 2016 at a cost of $6 million, also survived.
Custer State Park officials area expecting the 2018 tourism year to be as strong as last year, when nearly 2 million people came, including a record 21,000 attendees for the 52nd annual buffalo roundup.
Touring Custer State Park with your children is a great way to teach them about forestry and conservatorship of our Black Hills. You can also tell them about the many animals who live in the park – pronghorn, bison, prairie dogs, mountain goats, coyote, and sharp-tailed grouse – and why they were able to survive due to their natural instincts and familiarity with their habitat. The mules that had to be euthanized were not native to Custer State Park and therefore, did not know where to run during the fire.
So make the most of your spring and head into the hills. It’s a great way to spend time with your family, to exercise and see the rebirth of the areas that were damaged by last December’s fire.