Tourism season looks hopeful
Published: Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
Despite thunderstorms and cooler temperatures, many business owners in the tourism industry are seeing high or comparable numbers of visitors and sales. While the cooler weather has deterred some from camping, many visitors are still flocking to the campgrounds.
“Visitors make plans way in advance and it’s hard to alter them,” said Craig Pugsley, visitor services coordinator at Custer State Park. “Weather tends to impact local use and area residents. In terms of out-of-state numbers, we are good.”
In May, camping was up three percent at Custer State Park and is up eight percent year to date. While he doesn’t yet know the numbers for June, Pugsley believes the park is on par with June of last year.
“I’ve heard the campgrounds are filling up and close to full occupancy,” he said. “A few nights they were 100 percent (full).”
“The spring was pretty bad due to the weather,” said Cindy Hammer of Beaver Lake Campground. “We were down by half in April, but we’re starting to do well.”
Hammer thinks the summer will be good since there are already reservations for June through August. However, she does believe with the 75th anniversary of the Rally next year, this year’s event may be soft.
“We do have some sites open for the Rally still, but it’s looking to be a positive summer season,” she said.
Fort Welikit is also doing better than last year, despite the cold weather.
“It was slow starting, but it picked up the second week in June,” said Kelly Saint, owner. “We’re doing better than last year at this time.”
Saint said they did have some cancellations due to the weather since opening May 15.
“I am hoping to be 10 percent or more than last year and we’re kind of at that point now with reservations this summer,” she said.
The Roost Resort has also been steady since opening May 25, with a lull the first week in June.
“Otherwise we are turning away people due to no availability,” said owner Susan Swindal. “We are having several reunions this summer (on site). Most people are waiting about two weeks out to reserve. I think the summer will be great.”
Steve Olson, manager of the Holiday Inn, Super 8, Comfort Inn & Suites, Best Western and Econolodge, all in Custer, said the hotels were down a little in May and look to be flat with where they were June 2013.
“Overall, we’re tracking flat. It’s just the weather; we need this weather to shape up,” he said. “With the slow start, we need a good July and August and bike rally.”
Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. has seen an increase in traffic, which started Memorial Weekend, if not before, according to Christie Smith, owner.
“We’re over a bit from where we were last year,” she said. “It was really looking good for us when Custer State Park had its free open weekend. It’s been going strong since.”
Buglin’ Bull Restaurant and Sports Bar was off to a slow start, but soon picked up between June 15-20.
“We are running about even with what we were last year,” said Jonathan Stahl. “I think it will be a steady summer.”
MainStreet MarketPlace, co-owned by Stahl and Brian and Janet Boyer, has also seen decent foot traffic, considering it only recently opened.
“We have nothing to gauge (MainStreet MarketPlace) on, but I am happy with the traffic,” Stahl said. “I hope to see it remain where it’s at or (increase) a little bit for the rest of the season. I think it will. All in all, I think it will end up a good year.”
Frontier Photo has seen more traffic in its shop, but not much before June.
“Before June there wasn’t a whole lot going on, thanks to the weather,” said Jim Understock, co-owner. “If June is any indication of what the season will be like, I can’t help but think it will be another favorable year.”
Jenny Behlings of Jenny’s Floral agreed, saying her business is on par, if not better than June of last year.
“I’ve noticed a lot of foreign people and more families so far,” she said. “I think it will be a great summer and I hope the weather holds out and we don’t have anything drastic, like a fire.”
Wind Cave National Monument had 65,993 visitors in May compared to 2013’s 64,515. Mount Rushmore had an increase of 16.86 percent with 82,417 visitors in April compared to 70,525 visitors last April.
Crazy Horse Memorial has also seen an increase in traffic.
“Our traffic is steady and our bus numbers are up,” said Mike Morgan, memorial spokesperson. “I think we are doing pretty good.”
May visits at Jewel Cave National Monument were 5,858, up from the previous year’s 5,522. Their year-to-date numbers are also comparable to this time last year.
Bradley Block, chief of interpretation, said, “Road construction hasn’t really hindered us. Some, like motorcyclists and others, may avoid us, since the road is gravel, but we’ve had a large number of people.”
Block encourages guests to get to the monument early, since morning offers the best options for cave tours.
To alleviate wait times, Rangers at Jewel Cave have led nature hikes. “We’re engaging the public as best we can to offset that wait time. We cannot guarantee spots, but for those who come in early there should be more options,” Block said.
While camping is up, traffic in Custer State Park is down five percent, which Pugsley said could be weather related.
“The locals aren’t getting out and using the park because of the weather, so that could be what that attributes to,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we are up one percent from last year. We’re still optimistic that it will be a wonderful season throughout the park and the Black Hills.”
Numbers are also significantly up at the Grand Magic Show.
“Our best guess is the fact that now, being in our third season, we have been around long enough for people to know we are here,” said magician Duane Laflin. “It may be a ripple effect where, as more people learn about us, the word gets spread in a broader manner.”
Laflin said they are getting many return guests, many of whom bring friends and relatives back with them.
“We are grateful for how the local community, including workers in motels and restaurants, have helped in getting the word out that we exist,” he said.
For this tourist season, the Grand Magic Show has a new performance, with about two thirds of the show different.
“My personal feeling about this year’s show is it is the best I have ever been able to put together,” Laflin said. “It is a blessing that, at the same time I feel so good about the show, we also are having such good attendance.”
Laflin doesn’t believe that is the reason for the increase in attendance.
“Every season, we make changes so people can know that the show will not be exactly the same as before. When people who have seen the show before come back again, they are surprised by the changes, but also comment that they liked what they saw last time and that is why they are back again,” he said. “Until the summer is over, we will not really know how we have done, but so far we are pleased and grateful. Things are looking good.”
“We have seen people earlier this year,” said Mary Krogman at Four Mile Old West Town. “We’ve had some foreign people and are getting more families since school is finally out.”
Krogman believes the summer storms have affected visitor traffic. She also said she hasn’t seen a lot of local traffic yet.
“We’re not seeing a lot of South Dakota-Minnesota guests yet,” she said. “I’ve seen some outlying areas and people from the East Coast.”
While the moisture may be getting old for some, the rain is still welcomed.
“I’m thankful for rain and not a drought. The moisture has been very good to us. It makes for a brilliant green landscape and it looks really pretty,” Pugsley added. “Weather is weather and some rainy days are good for the indoor attractions. There’s always something to do in the Black Hills.”
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