Sylvan Lake Master Plan moving forward with updating the area, but making some question the increased human impact
CUSTER, S.D.– With the summer season coming to a close, Custer State Park has already began work on some new projects. Visitors to the Sylvan Lake area in the last few weeks may have already seen one of them: the tearing down of the general store. The general store was already facing structural damage before the decision was made to tear it down.
Currently just an area of dirt and rocks, crews have started on the next phase, which involves building a slightly smaller version of the general store and also to make sure that it is ADA compliant. The store will also be established on more level ground to accommodate for the increased accessibility.
However, this is not the only project, park officials have in mind.
In accordance with a master plan, park officials have set in place for Sylvan Lake, trails and other areas nearby will also be adjusted to be ADA compliant. They also are working to expand the deck of a building near the amphitheater that will be the new place to hold weddings instead of on the lake.
Combined with past projects like the new Bison Center that opened in May of 2022, the park is focused on improving visitors’ experiences. However, some see the building activity as increasing the human presence in the park and straying from the park’s goals of preserving the natural attraction.
“Inevitably, the park becomes more like a little city and less of a place that we go to get away from the city. So I’d like to see that that given some thought,” Historian and Photographer Paul Horsted explained. Horsted says he understands the need to make areas like Sylvan Lake more accessible for visitors and, but does not want to see the park lose the nature aspect that makes it so special.
“I hope they don’t expand the footprint any further than they already have in the past 15 or 20 years.”
As many as 2,000,000 visitors take a trip to the park every year, according to the Custer State Park website, and public opinion has been an important factor in the creation of the lake’s master plan.
The moving of the wedding venue and the increased accessibility, for example, were done at the request of visitors through discussions with the park. Even with the current and upcoming changes, the park is still completely dedicated to their mission statement: To preserve, protect, and enhance the natural, cultural, and recreational attributes of the park, “The Crown Jewel of South Dakota”.
“We did a master plan, we wanted the public’s opinion. Did we miss something? Do they see something that we do not see?,” Visitor Services Manager for the Custer State Park Lydia Austin said. “And that is included in with the resource team, the visitor services team, and the maintenance team. It all works together to balance it out so we have a beautiful park to offer future generations, but one that is maintained to the expectations that visitors have.”