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January 02, 2018 10:46 PM

Good Year At Good Earth

Last month's massive Legion Lake Fire has focused attention on the importance of South Dakota's state park system.  Custer State Park has now re-opened to the public.  But the firefighting effort to save our oldest state park has been on the minds of people at our newest state park, which saw an increase in visitor numbers in 2017.

Stepping away from the rat race involves a hike through Good Earth State Park for Ana Zarate and her dog Charlie.

"It's a really nice trail, so it's lots of fun and a nice break from our regular activities," Zarate said.

Zarate, who lives in Sioux Falls, tries to visit the park at least once a month.  Winter brings its own seasonal splendor to Good Earth State Park at Blood Run.  The bare oak trees provide a stark, yet scenic, backdrop to the snow-sprinkled prairie grass.

"We get to enjoy the birds that are flying around, a couple of deer, we've seen that, yeah, it's really nice," Zarate said.

The 650 acre park has been open since 2013.  But last spring, the park dedicated its new visitor center.  The building, which features interactive exhibits on Native American history and culture, has drawn nearly 30,000 people in the seven months it's been open.

"I think it's meant a lot to everybody to have this place up and running and the people of the area, obviously the employees, tribal members that helped us get this place planned out and up and going, it's been really important for everybody and it's been very well received," Good Earth State Park Manager Jim Henning said.

Yet despite the boost in park attendance, to many people, Good Earth remains a hidden gem awaiting discovery.

"It's pretty surprising how many people come out here to the park and say, oh wow, I didn't know this place was here!  But that's always nice we're getting those people that are coming out and saying I just found out about this last week or something, hopefully, it keeps moving that way and we keep bringing new people out," Henning said.

PERRY GROTEN:  Good Earth State Park features six-and-a-half miles of hiking trails and as soon as a little more snow falls this winter, visitors will be able to strap on snowshoes and cross-country skis.

"And we're going to continue to have programming through the winter and we're going to groom a trail or two for cross-country skiing and we also have snowshoes where we're going to be doing some snow-shoeing programs and we're just going to keep rolling," Henning said.

Henning says the fire at Custer State Park has generated a greater appreciation for state parks as a valued recreational resource in South Dakota.

"Unfortunately, Custer had to deal with the fire, but it has got people looking a little more at the state parks and I think in a positive way.  I know Custer's received really positive outreach from the community and from the public and we've had a lot of questions about it here as well," Henning said.

While Custer State Park gets most of the attention in the aftermath of the fire, Good Earth State Park, on the opposite end of the state, tucked away on the outskirts of Sioux Falls is gaining a loyal following.

"Oh, it's beautiful, I think it's one of my favorite state parks, for sure," Zarate said.

Winter programs at Good Earth State Park visitor center include a free session for pre-schoolers on how to identify animal tracks at 10 a.m. January 3rd.  That's followed by a 1 p.m. session for grownups on fighting forest fires.  A timely topic following the Custer State Park fire.

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