Nestled into the Black Hills, Spearfish, South Dakota, is a top destination for adventure lovers. Despite being a town of under 12,000 people, attractions in the area estimate that 160,000 people visit the town between May and September each year.
“We are described as a base camp for adventure in the Black Hills,” said Brian Gebhart, director of public relations and digital marketing at Visit Spearfish. “We have hiking, biking, mountain biking, rock climbing, a lot of access to those outdoor adventure situations as well as scenic drives. Spearfish sits at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon, which is arguably one of the most scenic drives in South Dakota. It’s gorgeous, there are waterfalls and different hiking trails throughout.”
But what makes Spearfish unique from surrounding towns is the fact that the town has activities to offer year-round.
“Tourism and hospitality is one of the biggest industries in Spearfish,” said Gebhart. “One thing that’s special about Spearfish is that we don’t close. We are a year-round destination. There are a few communities within the Black Hills that they’re only seasonably open, but a lot of our attractions or things to do are open year-round.”
And the popularity of the town shows when it comes to numbers. As of November 2019, Spearfish’s hospitality tax was up 6% while the overall sales tax was up 8% over 2018 year-to-date.
“We’ve seen continued growth since Visit Spearfish has been open, which has been since 2009,” said Gebhart. “Some years, we only see a little bit, like maybe a 1% growth or so, but this year, it’s trending very well.”
To keep that growth trending upward, the town is creating more outdoor recreation opportunities for both residents and visitors.
One such project is the expansion of the city’s current recreation and bike path. This 7 1/2-mile recreation path runs along Spearfish Creek and is frequently used by bikers and joggers. The path connects to many focal points of the town, including several parks, Black Hills State University and Spearfish Canyon.
But the city recently saw the need to expand the path to connect even more people to these amenities.
“In the last 10 years, we have seen tremendous growth in the Exit 8 area,” said Tyler Ehnes, Spearfish park and recreation director. “Five different subdivisions have been developed, and we have seen the need to create a safe, alternative means of transportation for the residents living in these areas. This path will also connect those on the outskirts of town to our existing path system, which will connect them to the heart of our community.”
The expansion adds 2.7 miles to the path and consists of two project phases. Phase one will begin in spring 2020 with the second phase beginning in the fall of 2021.
The total estimated project cost is $1,500,000, which the city has budgeted for from 2019-2021. But, Spearfish has already been awarded a $100,000 Recreation Trails Program grant by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. The city is also currently waiting to hear back on a $400,000 Transportation Alternative Grant and is planning on applying for another $400,000 grant for phase two.
In addition to offering transportation alternatives and recreation opportunities, the rec path expansion will also include an art path.
A local art group, Art Central, is collaborating with the city to install art kiosks along the new section of the path. These kiosks will promote local artists and their work.
Speaking of art, the Rec Path isn’t the only location in Spearfish geared toward creativity.
“We do have a really rich arts community,” said Gebhart. “We have the Spearfish Arts Center and Matthews Opera House, which does a lot of community art projects and they put on performances as well as bringing in live entertainment … There’s constantly art galleries going on.”
Another large project underway to increase outdoor recreation in the area is the creation of off-highway vehicles and utility all-terrain vehicle trails. The Black Hills consists of 3,650 miles of roads and trails, and with this project, 707 miles will be specifically used for OHV and UTV recreation.
“OHV and UTV have kind of been trending up and more people are looking for that type of adventure,” said Gebhart. “And there has been an increase in usage of those types of trails within the Black Hills as a whole.”
The U.S. Forest Service is handling this large project. Before the designation, riders could use their OHV and UTV vehicles anywhere that wasn’t posted. According to the Forest Service, there are currently 21 designated motorized trails of varying difficulty and lengths.
“The Forest Service realized that while we are still not overcrowded, we wanted to be able to keep people coming back and exploring more things,” said Gebhart. “Growth in adventure activities is always a positive.”
All of these projects are so much more than just the efforts of the city of Spearfish and the Forest Service.
Spearfish is home to many community organizations and nonprofits that work together to ensure everyone can enjoy the city’s recreational opportunities. A few examples include the Grooming Alliance of Spearfish, which grooms trails to make them accessible for everyone; the Ridge Riders, which concentrates on the mountain biking trails; and the Nordic Ski Club that helps with grooming areas for cross-country skiing.
“It’s a great partnership through all those entities,” said Gebhart. “It takes a village, everyone pitches in.”