Custer State Park Bison Center hosts grand opening

CUSTER STATE PARK, S.D. – Custer State Park, home of one of the world’s largest free-roaming bison herds held its ribbon cutting and the grand opening of its new Bison Center on Friday.

5 20 Bison Center Pkg New00 00 00 00still001The $5 million, 4,000 square-foot interpretive center was the vision of Walter and Tina Panzirer to share the unique and rich history of the bison and the role the park played in preserving the species.

“The Bison Center will be a landmark destination for visitors from across South Dakota and around the world to understand the North American bison’s rich history and learn about Custer State Park’s role in preserving this magnificent animal,” said Walter Panzirer, a Trustee for the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “It has been exciting to be part of the project since inception, and I am honored to see it come to fruition with the ribbon cutting and grand opening.”

The center is located near the bison corral complex off of Wildlife Loop Road. It offers engaging exhibits telling why the park does a roundup each year and how the bison are managed – from genetic testing, research and range management.

“I think some of the unique features of the Bison Center are, one in particular, is just the timeline of how we got bison in the park, you know from 1913 into the current day. That’s always a neat, unique feature,” said Matt Snyder, Custer State Park Superintendent. “And then we also have a map here in the park that ever since we started the auction back in the early seventies, of where have all the bison gone that have left Custer State Park to start other herds or to supplement other herds. That’s quite an interesting thing too that people like to see.”

The center was made possible by a four million dollar grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, $500,000 allocated from the South Dakota Legislature and an additional $500,000 in private donations raised by the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation.

Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, spoke at the event announcing that he will introduce legislation next year to make bison, the iconic symbol of the American West the official South Dakota state animal.

Snyder said that the center will add to the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup.

“Basically, one thing that we’ve never had before down here is flush toilets for Roundup. So the bathrooms would definitely be open. You know, we’ll still have to have some porta potties, but I think it’s an attraction. I mean, right now, after the Roundup, a lot of people leave. Some will come down and see the crowds and watch the bison get work, but now they have another opportunity to come and stay a little bit longer and see the center,” said Snyder. “I think it’s going to aid in educating the public as to what we are really doing and why are we doing what we’re doing,” he said.

The Bison Center Grand Opening helped kickoff South Dakota’s State Park Open House and Free Fishing Weekend, which runs through Sunday. Park entry fees are waived for the weekend and fishing licenses are not needed, but catch limits and other angling regulations still apply.

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