Spearfish and the entire Black Hills are a playground, but Lookout Mountain is my favorite run. During my two-year stay in Spearfish, I had an amazing, challenging, and breathtakingly scenic trail run just five minutes on foot from my doorstep. The terrain ranges from open plains to bob-and-weave forest path to four-point rock scramble.
The views, as you can see above, are spectacular. Climbing even a quarter of the way up, to the limestone shelves along the west face of Lookout, rewards hikers with a panoramic view of Spearfish—and wherever you live, there is something psychically healthy about being able to walk to a place where you can see your town, all of its trees and streets and buildings together, in the context of the surrounding countryside. On a family hike, we got our little one to climb cheerfully all the way to the top, where she could see all of Spearfish, from Exit 8 to Exit 17, plus the Canyon and Crow Peak, Belle Fourche and Orman Dam, Bear Butte and its far lonely sisters to the north, and other wonders of geography seen from on high.
As a bonus, when we returned from our family hike, we could sit at Killian's eating supper, look out the window, and see the mountain we had just climbed. Lookout Mountain isn't a distant landmark on the horizon; for Spearfishers and Spearfish visitors, it can be a close friend, a place known by eye and foot.
After years of sporadic, never-quite-satisfying jogging between bike rides, Lookout Mountain (along with a light pair of Merrills) helped me fall back in love with running. I rode my mountain bike there once or twice, but it wasn't as fun as running or hiking Lookout. Frankly, I don't have the technical skills for some of the narrow, rocky, rooty trails, and I don't care to slip and go head-over-derailleur down a 50- or 100-foot drop (as one of my French students did on purpose). Besides, I see no way that any mortal two-wheeler can make it up to the very top by pedaling. Instead of hopping off and on the saddle and carrying the bike over the scary spots, I enjoy Lookout more with a nice steady run or walk.
But I've seen bike tracks and bikers on Lookout. I admire their muscle and tenacity. As long as they tread lightly and follow basic trail etiquette of yielding to foot traffic (which this guy does not at 7:10 of his Lookout ride video as he scares four walkers out of his downhill way), I'm more than happy to share Lookout Mountain with all adventurers who want to experience it under their own power...
...which brings me back to Mr. Krambeck's comment about loving Lookout to death. Krambeck was speaking at a Spearfish City Council meeting this week, during which the Spearfish Trails and Recreation Committee (not a formal city committee, as far as I can tell, but a citizens group) offered its ideas for developing a more organized and sustainable trail system on Lookout Mountain. Currently there are no maps or trail markers to help new visitors find their way around Lookout. Hikers and bikers have blazed some trails across contour lines instead of following contour lines, causing erosion problems. The state Department of Transportation has padlocked one frequently used access point, the gate at Exit 12, saying that parking on the exit ramp there is dangerous and illegal (someone, please, shout "Nanny state!" here). The remaining public gates are both hard to find: the Nevada Street trailhead sits past a dead end with no official signage and leads through an unlit tunnel under I-90; the other access point is hidden away on Pony Express Lane in the serpentine streets of the Sandstone development.
The Spearfish Trails and Recreation Committee would like to remedy those problems with maps, signage, volunteers to establish and carry out a trail maintenance plan, and even separate trails for hiking and biking. Says STAR committee member Jim Meyer:
“In the end, our hope is that we can create a clear hiking trail to the summit that is orientated just for hiking.”
When it comes to the path created specifically for mountain biking, he explained his vision is to have the route veer toward the left where the trails meander toward the summit.
As for maintenance, Meyer said the committee would be happy to create a nonprofit entity made up of hikers, bikers, runners and anyone else who enjoys Lookout Mountain for recreational purposes, to put together a plan, fundraise to get everything going and recruit people to assist that committee in repairing trails.
“We think it’s a good idea to have trails that are specific to both,” Meyer said [Heather Murschel, "City Hears New Vision for Lookout Mountain," Black Hills Pioneer, 2013.07.11].
So what's Jerry Krambeck's problem? He and longtime Spearfish resident and activist Rosalie Aslesen don't want to have to look out for bikes on Lookout:
...former Mayor Jerry Krambeck said Lookout Mountain should be “left to the rattlesnakes and the cactus,” and that building a trail head would violate the conservation easements and only encourage heavier bike traffic on the preserve.
“We need to remember the citizens of Spearfish purchased Lookout Mountain, and it wasn’t meant for special interests,” Krambeck said. “I don’t want to take my grandchildren up there or other people and have to duck off the mountain because there’s too many bicycles up there. We need to be very cautious. I don’t think we’re going to protect it. I think we’re going to love it to death."
Fellow preservation trust member Rosalie Aslesen said she thought existing biking on the mountain verged on abuse of the landscape.
“This is an issue important to all people of Spearfish, not just to those who ride bikes or hike on the mountain,” Aslesen said. “We did a lot of work to preserve this mountain and now it’s being turned over to bicycle use. I think you’ve gone a little too far here" [Tom Griffith, "Lookout Mountain in Spearfish: Will Cyclists 'Love It to Death'?"].
"Special interest" is a term we use to denigrate and marginalize political opponents. I'm not sure that's an appropriate term to use in Spearfish to describe neighbors who enjoy outdoor recreation. Jim Meyer may be a bicycle nut, but he's not advocating a plan that will benefit some small cabal of outsiders with interests inimical to Spearfish's general welfare. As Griffith explains, one conservation easement that covers 98% of Lookout's existing trails explicitly allows bicycles; the easement covering the remaining land says no wheeled travel. Meyer and other bicycling enthusiasts can probably work with that. Developing an accessible, findable trailhead and maintaining and marking trails can only help visitors better respect both easements and protect Lookout Mountain for future enjoyment.
In other words, developing an organized and sustainable system of trails on Lookout Mountain doesn't serve some nasty "special interest"; it serves Spearfish interest. The STAR committee's plan promotes outdoor recreation, public health, and tourism.
If you love Lookout Mountain, you don't lock it up and turn people away. You treat the mountain right, and you share it with others. You hike and pedal politely, watch out for snakes, and enjoy that amazing sunset.