Our Spearfish neighbors are holding an important meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at Hudson Hall downtown. The Spearfish Ag Land Committee will discuss the preservation of agricultural land in the Spearfish Valley.

The discussion will likely revolve around the Runnings' property, a 15.4-acre tract near Evans Lane. The land is among the turf in Spearfish Valley, on the north side of Spearfish, that has long been used for farming but now is on the market. A local correspondent tells me that one development deal has fallen through; the property is listed online for $989,000. Developers see an opportunity to build housing to meet demand in a tight market. Advocates for agriculture and sustainability contend that the community is served at least as well by maintaining the Valley's agricultural traditions as well as some local economic diversity.

Ray Running bought his 15 acres* after serving in the Army Air Corps in Italy in World War II. According to Running's 2011 obituary, he claimed his Valley corn was the best corn in South Dakota. Running used his SDSU education and his experience to teach agriculture to veterans in Meade County.

A local Spearfish correspondent sends me information from old-timer Linfred Schuttler, who farmed the Valley for strawberries, raspberries, and other produce. He says the Valley's orchards once supported exports across the Black Hills and to Wyoming and Nebraska. "There were thousands and thousands of apple trees," says Schuttler, "all the way down to the Redwater before there were stands. People would come in the fall with their wagons for miles.” Schuttler is worried that housing development in the Valley will cause more of the irrigation ditches that have boosted the Valley's productivity will be filled in. "Once they're lost," says Schuttler, "they can't be regained."

Can Spearfish have more housing and healthy local food? Tonight's meeting at Hudson Hall will give Spearfish residents the chance to wrestle with that question. Having rented in Spearfish, I recognize the need for affordable housing for workers and families in the Queen City. But I also recognize the unique value of the fertile Spearfish Valley as an economic resource for small, independent farmers. Spearfish needs to figure out the proper balance between these competing aspects of quality of life.

Update 2015.02.03 15:08 CST: An earlier version of this article erroneously attributed additional information about Ray Running's land purchase to a Spearfish resident who, in turns out, has no knowledge about Running's history. I have edited out that information and apologize for the error.

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Dreamers in Spearfish are bringing the Passion Play Amphitheater back to life. Local organizers Scott and Mary Temple, Terri Dunwoody, and Zach Eixenberger has rechristened the 6,500-seat arena the Lookout Amphitheater and are doing real renovation to reopen the facility for meetings, reunions, speakers (can you say Chautauqua?), and big summer outdoor concerts:

The organizers said that there are a lot of details yet to determine, but Temple said they play to offer smaller events in the former ticket building at the top of the site starting this winter, with the full venue open next summer. They’ve discussed how the site could host weddings, receptions, meetings, old movie nights, speakers, graduations, reunions, concerts – “It is up to people’s imaginations what can be happening up here,” Dunwoody said. “Of all of the ideas the group has had as they’ve discussed its future.”

They want to model the amphitheater after other successful venues, such as Red Rocks, an open-air amphitheater in Red Rocks Park, Colo.

“Why reinvent the wheel?” Dunwoody said, adding that the group will work to model the success of other popular venues. Temple added that the group plans to cement working relationships with as many venues as possible, to help one another to get various bands and entertainment offerings to make this area a destination on their concert tours [Kayla Swisher, "Resurrecting a Spearfish Landmark," Black Hills Pioneer, 2014.10.17].

Red Rocks?! Heck yeah, dream big! Owner Rand Williams reminds us that the Passion Play was huge. For decades, big crowds flocked to the Queen City to watch Josef Meier re-enact the execution of a Jewish carpenter and troublemaker; why can't we imagine that thousands of people would come again for music and fun under the backdrop of Lookout Mountain at sunset?

I admire this sort of vision and ambition. At the same time, I am somewhat relieved to read in Swisher's article that plans for a giant Jesus sculpture on the amphitheater grounds have been scaled back. There's big, and there's too big.

Whatever shows come to the amphitheater, I can already spot my favorite seat in the house... which won't actually be in the house. Spearfish architects Andy and Shauntel Fett have built a rammed-earth bench up the hill from the amphitheater, just below the Thoen Stone monument. You may think bench-schmench, but the South Dakota chapter of the American Institute of Architects found the bench so remarkable that it feted the Fetts with a merit award for sustainable design and materials. The view from that bench of Spearfish and Lookout Mountain is more than enough reward for the mere quarter-mile uphill hike to the monument.

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Spearfish Mountain and me, August 14, 2014

Spearfish Mountain and me, August 14, 2014

Don't forget: the Madville Times Blog Tour starts today! After lunch, I'll mosey over to the Green Bean Coffeehouse here in Spearfish for an afternoon of blogging, tweeting, and (I hope!) rhubarb pie. Blog readers, stop in, say hi, and if you're feeling sufficiently caffeinated, shoot a "South Dakota Sound Off" video to tell our great state what's on your mind.

I'll be at the Green Bean today from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. I'll be the guy with the computer, the camera, and the really big "Home Sweet Home" smile on his face. See you there!

* * *

Remember, next big stop on the blog tour will be Rickstock in Piedmont on Saturday from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m. I'll be chipping in my $9 to benefit Rick Weiland's campaign and enjoying the music. I'll also be interviewing friends of Rick, friends of the earth (I hear some folks working to to stop Keystone XL and the Powertech uranium mine will be there), and friends of the blog.

A bigger name touring the state and making time to stop at Rickstock is songwriter Michael Johnson. He's performing Friday night at the Homestake Opera House, then hitting the Rickstock stage Saturday. Here's a promo he's recorded to boost Weiland:

Keep that Senate seat blue... and keep your browser tuned to MadvilleTimes.com for more great South Dakota blogging!

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I can't tell you how excited I am to be on the road to South Dakota.

Wait—yes, I can! I'm extremely excited! I'm squinting into that morning sun with an enormous smile on my face. I am happier right now than I have been at any moment in the last twelve months.

And to celebrate my happiness at heading home, as well as twelve months of pretty good South Dakota blogging, I'm taking a tour of South Dakota. From August 14 to August 23, I'll be touring the state in the Madville Times mobile unit, taking pictures and video, interviewing fellow South Dakotans, and chatting with however many blog fans have time to drop by and say hi.

The first official stop of the Madville Times South Dakota tour will be in Spearfish Thursday. After I've taken my morning run up Lookout Mountain, I'll be blogging and chatting from the Green Bean Coffeehouse in Spearfish from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Come sit on the porch with me, and let's talk South Dakota! I'll have my camera handy to shoot quick one-minute "Sound Off!" videos for any readers who care to share their thoughts with South Dakota.

The next big stop will be Rickstock, the super-duper musical extravanganza to raise money for Rick Weiland's Senate campaign. That party starts at 1 p.m. Saturday, August 16, at Kevin Weiland's place, 5045 Lofty Pines Road, Piedmont. Madville Times readers, wear a yellow flower to show your blog love... and to help us recognize each other!

If you've enjoyed the blog coverage I've been able to bring you over the past year (EB-5, the Bosworth petition challenge, Legislative and campaign coverage...), or if you'd like to support the blog tour and the quality alternative journalism that will come from it (when I'm not interviewing, driving, or jogging, I will be writing!), please ring the tip jar. Click on that jar in the right sidebar, shoot some green electrons at me via Paypal, and I'll put that contribution to good use bringing you even more news from our great home state, South Dakota.

Thank you readers, for sticking with me during my absence from the state. In a way, thanks yo all of your comments and e-mails and phone calls, it feels like I was never gone. But I'm still eager to get on the highway keep trucking east to the state where I belong. See you Thursday at the Green Bean, Saturday at Rickstock, and through the following week all over South Dakota!

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Livability.com screws up royally in ranking Spearfish the seventh best small town in America. They should, of course, rank Spearfish #1!

What makes Spearfish so great in Livability's eyes and mine?

Here are the six towns Livability mistakenly ranked as better than Spearfish, plus the remainder of the top ten:

  1. Los Alamos, New Mexico
  2. Northfield, Minnesota
  3. Lebanon, New Hampshire
  4. Hood River, Oregon
  5. Port Angeles, Washington
  6. Glenwood Springs, Colorado
  7. Spearfish, South Dakota
  8. Heber City, Utah
  9. Traverse City, Michigan
  10. Hailey, Idaho
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Oh, how many times have I been biking up Spearfish Canyon or down the Mickelson Trail and thinking, "I could really use some pizza." But wait, what's that smoking down the highway? It's Spearfish's Mark Friedel coming to refuel me with his mobile pizza oven. Mobile pizza brick oven:

Brick ovens have been used in cooking for centuries, but Friedel had his oven custom-made by an individual in Boulder, Colo. The mobile oven includes a prep table in the back, a hand washing station, an awning, and service tables up front [Kaylee Tschetter, "Mobile Pizza Oven to Cruise Spearfish," Black Hills Pioneer, 2014.03.25].

A brick oven on a trailer, cooking pizza in two to three minutes. That's Reason #547 to live in the Black Hills.

Alas, Friedel won't be frisbee-ing pizza to riders on the go. But come May, he will be setting up Black Hills Pizza once a week in the Crow Peak Brewery parking lot, once a week out somewhere on the east side of Spearfish, and then hit local events around the Hills. He also plans to hire out to weddings, reunions, and other events. I don't know how many pizzas the oven can make at once, but I'll get in line for a Noah's Ark.

Now if Friedel can add flammeküche to the menu for Alsatian ex-pats and his large local Francophone population, he'll corner the Black Hills pizza market! Whoo-hoo, pizza!

Comments Off on Spearfish Entrepreneur Fires Up Mobile Pizza Oven

27% of registered voters in Spearfish and Spearfish Valley showed up at the polls yesterday to reject the city's proposed annexation of some of the nicest not-quite urban, not-quite rural agricultural land in South Dakota. On a 54.6%-to-45.4% split, referendum voters chose to keep the split between the city proper and that island of anti-municipal anarchy between campus and I-90.

Mayor Dana Boke sighs plaintively over this split:

“As we move into the future still a divided city, it becomes more and more imperative that leadership groups focus on communication, collaboration, and ensuring that the decisions made are focused primarily on the benefit of the people we serve,” she said. “While the division continues, we must find a way to work together — the people of the city and the people of the valley — the future of Spearfish depends on it” [Heather Murschel, "Public Votes No on Annexation," Black Hills Pioneer, 2013.12.10].

But Mayor Boke isn't exactly speaking a soothing balm to bring those her disagree with her back to the bosom of brotherly community-building:

“I believe in our democratic process, and I accept the decision of our voters,” Spearfish Mayor Dana Boke said. “While the Council determined that all Spearfish residents should share equally in the necessary costs of operating our community, it is clear from this election that the majority of the residents of the City do not feel the same way” [Murschel, 2013.12.10].

Translation: I believe in sharing things equally, but you jerks don't.

Try that management style out for size in your office, see how that works with your team.

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In a sign that someone was drinking too much beer (or not enough Crow Peak Beer), Nerd Wallet lists the ten best towns in South Dakota to for young families and ranks Spearfish only ninth... behind North Sioux City:

4. North Sioux City

North Sioux City is just 10 minutes from downtown Sioux City. Despite its proximity to a major job market, North Sioux City also boasts the lowest median home values of any city in the top 10, at $98,900. The schools are great, too, with Dakota Valley School District students outperforming the state average on STEP in reading and math, at almost every grade level.

...9. Spearfish

Spearfish is in Lawrence County, in western South Dakota. The community is home to Black Hills State University, the third-largest university in the state and one of Spearfish’s largest employers. For fun, residents can enjoy the city’s 17 parks, 14 tennis courts and eight ball fields; for sportsmen, there is the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery [Mike Anderson, "The Best Towns in South Dakota for Young Families," Nerd Wallet, 2013.12.07].

Being just ten minutes from Sioux City lowers the desirability of anything by 25% (or maybe that's just the effect of living near Dan Lederman). Houses are a lot more expensive in Spearfish than North Sioux City. But they are more expensive for a reason: instead of being ten minutes from Sioux City, Spearfish families are ten minutes from Lookout Mountain, Bridal Veil Falls, and Spearfish Canyon.

Nerd Wallet's assessment is based on home values, school data, and income. Here's there full top 15, out of 41 towns over 2,000:

  1. Yankton
  2. Mitchell
  3. Elk Point
  4. North Sioux City
  5. Tea
  6. Watertown
  7. Volga
  8. Harrisburg
  9. Spearfish
  10. Aberdeen
  11. Pierre
  12. Brookings
  13. Milbank
  14. Lennox
  15. Belle Fourche

Pierre beating Brookings is another puzzler. Yes, the walking your kids past the Capitol every day would be a great daily civics lesson, and blogging from the banks of the Missouri during session would be bliss, but the commercial and cultural swirl of SDSU, the Children's Museum, and I-29 offer more opportunity for young families than our politically and geographically strait-jacketed capital.

Commenters, your counter-rankings are welcome! What South Dakota towns would you recommend our young, family-starting readers put at the top of their list?

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