During the early years, the park and preserve issued grazing permits. In 1939, the practice was discontinued "to prevent erosion and in order that the range may regain its normal condition."
Seeding the range with native grasses to rehabilitate the land became a common practice in the 1940’s and 50’s. Native prairie plants were better adapted to this environment and could withstand the pressures from grazing.
Park Boundaries Expand
During the depression in the 1930’s, marginal lands were purchased by the federal government to help farmers move to better areas and to attempt to rehabilitate lands that had been subjected to drought and erosion. The idea was that, eventually, these places would be used as parks and recreation areas.
The lands adjoining Wind Cave National Park were called the Custer Recreational Demonstration Area. In 1946, Wind Cave National Park acquired a large section of this land increasing the size of the park to 28,059 acres.
Recent Casey Addition
On October 6, 2011 Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the National Park Service has acquired 5,555 acres of former ranchland, including a thousand-year-old buffalo jump and an historic homestead, that will become part of South Dakota's Wind Cave National Park. "The addition of this historic ranch to the park will help ensure that people for generations to come can come to know and love this treasured landscape and have the opportunity to learn about the indigenous peoples of South Dakota," said Secretary Salazar."
On the surface, the park now features 33,556 acres of mixed-grass prairie and ponderosa pine forest that provides important habitat for bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs. It is home to one of America's most ecologically-significant bison herds, which dates back to bison relocated to the park from the Bronx Zoo and Yellowstone in the early 20th century.
Native Americans hunted buffalo on the newly acquired land over a thousand years ago, driving them over buffalo jumps, or cliffs. Tipi rings provide additional evidence of Native American use of the area.
Park staff will now start the public planning process to allow visitors to experience this new land. This year-long process, a Visitor Access Plan/Environmental Assessment, is expected to begin this fall and will determine, among other things, where and if hiking trails will be constructed. Broader planning over the next year will address how to comprehensively integrate this land into the rest of the park and address whether or not any new visitor service facilities are needed and whether or not existing wildlife management plans are adequate.
"We are initiating a thorough process to develop a management plan for the land that will involve many opportunities for the public to participate," said park superintendent Vidal Davila."In the meantime, we are looking at ways to get people out on the land so they can help with the planning process." A public dedication for the new land was held October 15, 2011.
Comments and ideas for using the land can be mailed to the park superintendent by March 30, 2012 at Wind Cave National Park, 26611 U.S. Highway 385, Hot Springs, S.D. 57747; or left on-lineby visiting the websitehttp://parkplanning.nps.govand following the links for Wind Cave National Park.
For more information about the return of the wildlife to Wind Cave National Park select from the listings below: