Gordon Howie says House Bill 1030, which would require passing motorists to give cyclists three to six feet of space, is a stupid idea. To boost his point, Howie misrepresents the text of the bill:

The South Dakota Department of Transportation wants to force drivers into the lane of oncoming traffic, to accommodate bicycle riders. The SD House transportation committee unanimously agrees [Gordon Howie, "Move Over Stupid," The Right Side, 2015.02.12].

Read the bill, Gordon:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction may partially cross the highway centerline or the dividing line between two lanes of travel in the same direction if it can be performed safely [House Bill 1030, as amended and approved by House Transportation, 2015.02.10].

HB 1030 says may, not shall. It allows drivers to cross the center line if said crossing "can be performed safely"—i.e., if there is no oncoming traffic. HB 1030 does not force anyone to play chicken.

Howie hollers thus to take the anti-liberty position that South Dakota should ban bicycles from some of its finest scenic roads for cycling:

Ask drivers on South Dakota’s Lower Spring Creek Road. They will tell you that sightseeing bicyclists already create an extreme hazard. They will also tell you this proposed law would make matters exponentially worse.

A BETTER SOLUTION would be to prohibit bicycle traffic on roads that do not meet specifications that allow safe travel for BOTH motor vehicles and bicycles [Howie, 2015.02.12].

Gordon, you're not allowing safe travel for bicyclists if you aren't allowing bicyclists to travel.

The solution is not to ban people from getting around under their own power and enjoying their freedom from car payments and petro-tyranny. The solution is to accommodate alternative transportation with sensible rules of the road like HB 1030 and infrastructure accommodations like bike paths and big shoulders.

Gordon Howie the conservative wants to limit your freedom to travel. I the liberal want to expand your liberty and let all travelers enjoy the safe mode of travel of their choice.

p.s.: Wisconsin estimated that the bicycle industry—manufacturing, retail, etc.—contributed $556 million and over 2,000 direct ongoing jobs to its economy. Bicycle tourism may contribute over $900 million to Wisconsin's economy, plus another $400 million in health benefits.

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I'm scratching my head over a comment reported by Ken Santema from Saturday's crackerbarrel in Aberdeen. Evidently a citizen asked the legislators about a proposal to increase funding for K-12 education through a 1% tourism tax. From Santema's phrasing, it appears the questioner opposed this use of a tourism tax because tourism and education are not connected. Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) mentioned his agreement that there is no link between tourism and education in the context of declaring a tourism tax for education a plan unlikely to pass.

Um...

  1. Isn't everything connected to education? Don't visitors benefit from an educated workforce who can count their change, give them directions, and have job opportunities that keep them from burgling RVs?
  2. Imagine you're a tourist enjoying a stay in South Dakota and we give you a choice on how you want your tourism tax dollar spent. Either you can send your dollar to the state to support K-12 education, or you can send your dollar to Pierre to pay for more tourism advertisements. Which would you pick?
  3. Just how "connected" does a thing or activity or industry have to be for us to justify taxing that thing or activity or industry to support some specific public good or service?
  4. If a thing/activity/industry we tax has to be connected in some direct way to the public good/service it pays for, should we end the use of dollars from the sales tax on food for anything other than funding the SDSU College of Agriculture?
  5. Similarly, just what public good or service is property connected to?
  6. Federally, what is income connected to?
  7. What connection does video lottery have to non-playing property owners whose taxes those video gamblers reduce?
  8. Is Senator Greenfield saying he will go to Pierre and demand a budget that funnels every tax dollar from sales, contractors, gambling, etc. into strict budget lines connected exclusively to "connected" public goods and services? Or did he just need an excuse to shoot down a reasonable plan that would raise revenue for K-12 education and give us a chance to prove his dear old mom wrong?
  9. Does this thinking turn every government function to a fee-for-service model?

Crackerbarrels do raise some good questions. They also provoke Republicans to raise some odd objections to raising revenues to help our schools.

16 comments

The new pawn shop payday lending magnate Chuck Brennan talked up in his Christmas card is now in the news. Brennan gets that Sioux Falls paper to promote his new Badlands Pawn, scheduled to open next Thanksgiving.

Brennan tells Jodi Schwan that he plans to spend $15 million to open not just a pawn shop but a 40,000-square-foot entertainment complex across from the new Sanford Premier Center as a response to what seems to be Brennan's gut feeling that plain old capitalism is a drag:

Somewhere [the pawn business] got to the point where it started to become a financial transaction and the showroom started losing its fun and people were just pawning stuff because they needed money, and they weren’t going for the pawnshop experience [Chuck Brennan, quoted in Jodi Schwan, "Entertainment Complex Coming near Events Center," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.25].

Brennan's right: capitalism has no soul!

To make business more fun, the "Largest Pawn shop in the Midwest" will include a gold foundry, a gun shop, a shooting range (free for cops!), its own FM radio station with live DJs simulcasting on 30+ stations, a house band led by Metal Cowboy Ron Keel and auditioning professional players and back-up singers now, a tattoo shop offering free Badlands Pawn ink, and a ticket broker providing all your scalping needs in one convenient location within easy walking distance of Sioux Falls' new concert venue. Brennan promises to fly the largest American flag on the largest flagpole (yes, that's phallic) in South Dakota. Brennan also plans to hire nearly 100 workers.

I don't know if Pawn of America will "restructure the tourism routes in the Midwest," but Brennan's pawn shop does sound like fun. And since Brennan is diversifying his portfolio into entertainment, he'll feel even less pain when we cap interest rates in 2016 and drive him out of the usury business. Everybody wins!

111 comments

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.

5 comments

The Rapid City Journal notices the National Park Service's survey of visitors to Mount Rushmore and finds confirmation of what we South Dakotans know quite well: while we have minor complaints about parking fees and "Made in China" trinkets, Mount Rushmore is pretty cool.

The survey itself offers a number of interesting observations about South Dakota's most famous monument. Conducted during the first week of summer in 2013, the on-site survey got 782 responses. 61% of those respondents said they were visiting Mount Rushmore for the first time. That's half the fun for us 39-percenters who go back to see the monument again: we are surrounded by people who are seeing something remarkable for the first time. We return visitors have more time to turn and face south up the Avenue of Flags or on the grand viewing terrace and look at all those other faces gazing toward the mountaintop.

Those other faces we see at Mount Rushmore are to some extent a wide sample of America. In just seven days, the surveyors caught visitors from 49 states. For us South Dakotans, Mount Rushmore offers a unique chance to be surrounded by people we don't know:

Mount Rushmore: U.S. Visitors by State. Littlejohn, M. and Y. Le. 2014. Mount Rushmore National Memorial visitor study: Summer 2013. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/EQD/NRR—2014/785. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Littlejohn, M. and Y. Le. 2014. Mount Rushmore National Memorial visitor study: Summer 2013. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/EQD/NRR—2014/785. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

When I go to Mount Rushmore, only 1 in 25 of the people around me is from South Dakota. That chance to see a whole bunch of America is worth a field trip for the school kids right there.

But remind the kids that they aren't seeing the most accurate cross-section of America. In the center of a nation that's 78% white, 17% Hispanic, and 13% black, the June 21–27 survey found visitors were 93% white, 3% Asian, and 1% black. In a state that's 9% American Indian, and in a national forest of great spiritual significance to our Lakota neighbors, the survey found just 1% of visitors were Indians.

The latter should not surprise: if someone farted in my church, I'd probably sit in a different pew, too. The Mount Rushmore survey doesn't say much about the inherent cultural tension of four pale faces blasted into a stony temple stolen in conquest from a darker people. Three respondents mention that they were disappointed to find Heritage Village, the tipi cluster along the trail near the base of the mountain, closed. One respondent wishes that "Native Americans were more a part of the memorial." Another drops the white-imperialism bomb:

We found it to be underwhelming, and a surprisingly good indicator of why the Native Americans were, have been, and remain against this type of colonialism. White supremacy. We were far more intrigued by the nature than by this giant, clearly out of place, white rock with heads of dead white guys in the middle of the Black Hills [visitor comment, Margaret Littlejohn and Yen Le, Mount Rushmore National Memorial visitor study: Summer 2013, Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/EQD/NRR—2014/785, National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado, March 2014, p. 99.].

Maybe if there's a good side to this cultural tension, Mount Rushmore generates strong tourism synergy with that other big Black Hills rock project. Two thirds of the Mount Rushmore visitors surveyed said their trip itinerary included the Crazy Horse Memorial. That even larger rock refacement is fraught with its own cultural tensions, but at least the two stone monuments are boosting each other's visitor numbers and perhaps inspiring more Americans to cultural introspection through comparative grandiose sculpturology.

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Look at this view, coming into Deadwood from the north on US 85:

Deadwood, Terry Peak in distance at right

Deadwood, Terry Peak in distance at right, June 26, 2013.

If you look at this photo and say, "Let's go inside!" you have no soul.

But that's exactly the response on which Deadwood has built its economic development model, encouraging people to come over that hill and rush inside to gamble.

Tourism marketing expert Roger Brooks sees that model as part of Deadwood's problem. In a town meeting Friday, the downtown consultant told Deadwood's leaders that they are not defining who they are and not differentiating themselves in an intensely competitive tourism marketplace:

Nearly 150 business owners and managers, residents and local government officials attended Brooks' presentation Thursday night at the Deadwood Gulch Convention Center. They variously greeted Brook’s observations with applause, nods and complete silence.

“You have one of the best downtowns in the United States, and I’ve been in thousands of them,” Brooks told his audience. “But I could not figure out who you are. Are you 1940s, 1950s, retro? I wasn’t transported back in time to the 1870s. I was expecting Tombstone … and quite frankly it wasn’t here.”

...“Who the heck are you Deadwood?” he asked. “Where is the experience? You’re not delivering on the promise” [Tom Griffith, "Deadwood Needs to Fine Tune Its Identity, Downtown Consultant Says," Rapid City Journal, 2014.02.17].

But Deadwood's all about gambling, right? Big deal, says Brooks:

“The days of casino gaming as a brand are over,” he said, noting that Utah and Hawaii are the only states that don't have gaming. “It doesn’t make you different and that’s the problem. Even Las Vegas no longer promotes gambling. They’re the entertainment capital" [Griffith, 2014.02.17].

Brooks is writing up a comprehensive plan for Deadwood that will recommend clearer signage, better parking, and more public bathrooms, retail, and restaurants. Even that plan may not fully differentiate Deadwood. After all, just as lots of other places offer gambling, lots of other places offer a variety of retail and restaurants. Lots of other places offer the great outdoors.

But as my photo above suggests, I believe outdoor adventures should be a big part of whatever new marketing campaign Deadwood adopts from Brooks's suggestions. Think of Deadwood less as destination and more as base camp.

Start with the Mickelson Trail. It's great for crazy guys like me who dig long-distance pedaling adventures. But I'd also contend the Mickelson Trail is the most family-friendly mountain-bicycling experience in South Dakota. The gentle grade up from Deadwood to the Kirk trailhead, 3.5 miles south and west, is beautiful. Beyond Kirk, riders and walkers get a weird and wonderful combination of the industrial scars of mining, the soaring views and deep forest past Sugarloaf, and the oasis meadow at Englewood.

Perhaps the only disappointment of a Mickelson Trail ride from Deadwood and back is that you come back to an empty lot where nothing is happening, where there's not even a comfortable spot to lean your bike and sit on the grass (at least not the last time I looked). To make the Mickelson Trail more appealing, Deadwood could center its retail development around the trailhead at that crook in US 85 where Sherman Street becomes Charles. Get that grocery store back so riders can stock up on chow for the trail. Reopen a visitor center and a bike shop in that great old railroad depot. Plunk a couple restaurants in clear sight of the trailhead. Extend a clearly marked spur from the trailhead to the Mountain Grand and the downtown casino area, but make the Mickelson Trail gateway its own center of commerce and recreation.

Deadwood boosters could further expand the city's outdoor appeal with a network of bike and foot trails around the city. Hikers could find no end of amusement and adventure a half mile in either direction from downtown, heading north and west to Mt. Roosevelt or east past Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane on Mt. Moriah. Encourage people to spend the whole day outside, then come back to town for a sizzling steak, a pleasant stroll the shopping district, and a good concert (which the Mountain Grand is doing, thanks in part to EB-5 investors).

Casino gambling may have its place in boosting Deadwood's fortunes, but as Brooks notes, the tourism market has changed to make gambling a non-unique advantage. Instead of focusing on recreation that revolves around sitting indoors, Deadwood needs to look around and remember that its thrilling geography makes it the perfect place for folks who want to get outdoors.

24 comments

In more race-based conclusion-jumping, the Madison Daily Leader editorial page is feeling queasy about the proposal to turn the South Unit of the Badlands into the first tribal national park. Letting the Lakota run the Stronghold, frets publisher Jon Hunter, might hinder ranching and expand gambling:

Detractors are concerned about pushing aside cattle ranchers. One rancher, Sandra Buffington, told officials Wednesday, "Today, we're about to lose our whole livelihoods...I'm pretty scared right now."

We have another concern: Some proponents have suggested that the cultural center could become the nucleus for other development including a hotel, convenience stores and a racetrack with parimutuel betting. If so, building a casino wouldn't be far behind.

We support tourism and economic development, but we'd hate to see a scenic national park become a gambling destination. The Park Service, Oglala Sioux Tribe and Congress should put together a plan that preserves the beauty of the park, makes it accessible to all Americans, protects the economic interests of current ranchers, and prevents the addition of gambling [Jon Hunter, "National Park Shouldn't Turn into a Casino," Madison Daily Leader, 2013.12.19].

The press Hunter cites does not mention any plan for a South Unit casino. The Oglala Sioux already have the Prairie Wind Casino within an hour's drive of the South Unit. I'm not sure a business case exists for a competing casino on a landscape whose main attraction is its rugged, almost mystic desolation. The Oglala Sioux might stand as much chance of turning a profit on an extreme sports lodge, catering to hikers, campers, and ultramarathoners looking for a challenge and for night skies unsullied by metro light pollution.

I'm no fan of gambling. But one could argue that the ranching Hunter wants to protect does more damage to the Badlands ecosystem than would a casino next to the White River visitor center.

We've built an entire state on broken treaties, invasive species, and other practices that offend Lakota sensibilities. We have no problem dedicating an entire town at the entry to the sacred Black Hills National Forest to gambling. To hand a desolate chunk of land that we once used for a bombing range over to the Oglala Sioux Tribe and dictate that they not use it in ways that offend our sensibilities is doubly hypocritical.

30 comments

Spearfish residents and visitors will enjoy at least one more year of feeding trout and ducks in one of the prettiest spots in South Dakota. The D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery, a historic haven nestled in the outlet of Spearfish Canyon next to Spearfish City Park, will not be closed by Washington budget axers in Fiscal Year 2014.

Booth Society exec April Gregory, Spearfish mayor Dana Boke, and our Congressional delegation are all pleased, but they recognize they need to spend the coming year marshaling data on the Hatchery's impact on tourism, the local and state economy, education, and the environment.

Booth Hatchery advocates will want to bulk up on the environmental arguments. Read the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Friday announcement and the associated evaluation of the nationwide hatchery system's finances and goals. The report does not mention the Booth Hatchery specifically, but FWS director Dan Ashe is prioritizing species propagation, with a focus on endangered and threatened native species. The doesn't talk much about using hatcheries to educate kids and adults about conservation, but it does mention that outreach and education purposes made up just 0.195% of rainbow trout egg requests in the National Fish Hatchery System in 2013.

The FWS does acknowledge the economic impact of its investment in communities across the country. The FWS report says the hatcheries have a nationwide economic impact of $903 million, "returning $28 for every federal dollar invested." That's probably a better return than South Dakota has gotten from its beleaguered EB-5 visa investments.

The FWS report also provides this text, which Director Gregory and Mayor Boke need to memorize:

A reduction in Service efforts to support recreational fisheries would have substantial economic impacts on the states in which those fisheries occur. A 2006 economics analysis prepared by the Service’s Division of Economics showed that the NFHS stocked an estimated 123.1 million recreational fish, generating over 13 million angling days, $554 million dollars in retail sales, $903 million dollars of industrial output (i.e. monies generated by angler expenditures), $256 million dollars of job income, and 8,000 jobs. In addition, over $37 million dollars of federal tax income and $34 million dollars of state and local tax revenue were generated [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "National Fish Hatchery System: Strategic Hatchery and Workforce Planning Report," dated March 2013, released 2013.11.15, p. 18].

Having the Sword of Damocles hanging over the Booth Hatchery for another year isn't a pleasant prospect, but it gives Spearfish boosters plenty of time to work up their arguments and work their Congresspeople to protect one of the public investments in the Black Hills. And since we're extending this issue into an election year, I'm sure Rep. Kristi Noem will see an opportunity to improve her job security by making the federal government work for South Dakota.

But for the moment, Spearfish, breathe easy. It's supposed to be sunny today: stroll down to the Hatchery on your lunch break, feed the fish, quack back at the ducks, and enjoy a real Black Hills gem (brought to you in part by Uncle Sam).

1 comment

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