RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — The supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest opposed a land swap proposal to pave the way for a new South Dakota state park.
Legislation in Congress would authorize an exchange of 1,954 acres of federal land in the areas east of Black Hills and 1,992 acres of the Black Hills National Forest to federal ownership.
The exchange would enable the state to take ownership of Spearfish Canyon and would allow the expansion of the state-owned Roughlock Falls Nature Area into a full-fledged state park. The state would also receive land which would include Bismarck Lake to add into the park's boundaries.
The federal government would receive several pieces of land to incorporate into the Buffalo Gap and Fort Pierre national grasslands.
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed the land exchange in his January State of the State speech. U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., introduced the legislation to carry out the plan.
Some critics have assailed the plan as an unfair deal for the federal government and a step toward over-development of Spearfish Canyon. The U.S. Forest Service was silent about the proposal until Thursday, when Leslie Weldon, deputy chief of the National Forest System, testified against Thune's bill.
Forest Supervisor Mark Van Every told the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/2dmUjuM ) the department has invested nearly $1.2 million in improvements at the lake and canyon in recent years. He said the Forest Service's return on all of those investments would be diminished by the land exchange.
Meanwhile, the Spearfish Canyon Foundation said it favors the land exchange.
"The proposed land exchange between the state of South Dakota and the U.S. Forest Service will improve public use and enjoyment of our natural environment, preserve the scenic properties of Spearfish Canyon and serve the best interests of the general public," the foundation wrote in a recent letter to the Senate committee.