(Custer, South Dakota)
General George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills in 1874, then considered one of the last unexplored regions of the United States. Custer and his men discovered gold and the region was a secret no more. Precious metals are just part of the cornucopia of riches found in the Black Hills. Custer State Park, the largest state park in the Continental United States, is able to support its 73,000 acres without government money. Entrance fees are supplemented by harvesting timber, selling special hunting licenses for unique game like big horn sheep and buffalo, and renting park attractions to private concessionaires.
The park's annual buffalo sale can yield $250,000 alone. The bounty at Custer State Park extends to canine adventurers as well. In the main body of Custer State Park, you will find the French Creek Natural Area at its center. There are no marked trails along this 2200-acre swath of protected land but paths meander along the creek. There are many stream crossings and the sheer canyon walls narrow practically to the width of a greyhound at one point. One of the biggest attractions in Custer State Park is one of the world's largest free-ranging buffalo herds that grazes on over 18,000 acres of mixed prairie grasslands.
The 3-mile hillside Prairie Trail off the Wildlife Loop Road is a rolling loop that explodes into a spectacular wildflower display in the summer. In the summer of 1927, with the White House under renovation, President Calvin Coolidge was looking to get out of hot and buggy Washington. He set up his ”Summer White House” in Custer State Park. South Dakota was thrilled to have him and went overboard in welcoming the Coolidges. They showered the First Couple with gifts and overstocked the creek with so much trout that the President, a novice fisherman, could scarcely get his line in the water before getting a strike. The Grace Coolidge Creek that spills out of Center Lake is named for the First Lady and features an easy three-mile walk on a dirt path past seven lowhead dams. The Coolidge family loved their pets and historic photographs often feature their white collies, Rob Roy and Prudence Prim. Other dogs in the Presidential menagerie included Blackberry and Tiny Tim - both Chows; Bessie, a Yellow Collie; Boston Beans, a Bulldog; Calamity Jane, a Shetland Sheepdog; Paul Pry, an Airedale; Peter Pan, a Terrier; Ruby Rough, a Brown Collie.
RETURN TO SEPTEMBER 2011 NEWSLETTER
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