Custer State Park receives $1.8 million grant to restore wildfire area

CUSTER STATE PARK (KEVN) - "I am so pleased to announce a $1.8 million grant to Custer State Park," said Walter Panzirer, a trustee with the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

A significant contribution that would ease uncertainty for the many natural resources lost as a result of the Legion Lake Fire and as the big tourism season shifts in.

Kelly Hepler, Secretary of the SD Game, Fish and Parks, says "We're very excited about people coming back to the park but we couldn't tell you what you're going to see, we couldn't tell you what it's going to look like in three years or four years, now we can do that.

With more than 36,000 acres impacted by the fire and the amount of work to be done in order to relieve those fears, The Helmsley Charitable Trust says this would be the perfect time to lend a hand.

Panzirer says, "When the fire devastated so much of this park, we felt that this is a natural opportunity for private philanthropy to step up and continue to partner with Custer State Park."

Over a span of three years, the grant will go towards re-seeding beginning with the French Creek Natural area, force thinning, stream rehabilitation, and erosion control, all things that need to happen now.

Matt Snyder, the park superintendent, says "Within the next two to four weeks we're out on the ground basically putting seed on the ground, planting trees and all that so we want things to look good when the public comes back in."

Panzirer, says "We recognize that state funding can be a shortfall at certain times with current budgets but the restoration needs to begin immediately after a fire and without private philanthropy, the restoration could be delayed."

Mark Hendrix, the resource program manager at Custer State Park, says Custer State Park is all about the long-term sustainability of the landscape for future guest and so this money will be spent to try and make every guest experience as good as it can be so that way they can remember Custer State Park."

In addition to the rehabilitation project, Custer State Park is more than 50 percent complete in its logging project and has brought in bighorn sheep from the Badlands to supplement their herd.