Bob Mercer reports that some West River ranchers want to fully revert the mostly abandoned and de-railed state Rapid-to-Kadoka right-of-way from any socialist use to total private control:
One calling itself Ranchers Railway LLC, wants to pay $405,000 for 85 miles, between Kadoka and Caputa, and turn the land back to the 51 private owners along it.
The ranchers’ offer includes this objective: “Prevent third party organizations from acquiring the rail line for extracurricular activities, including a ‘rails to trails’ project” [Bob Mercer, “State Panel Might Sell Rail Line West of Kadoka,” KELO-TV, 2019.12.23].
The founder of the anti-trail ranchers group, Frank Bloom of Scenic, said back in 2015 that bicyclists and other recreators are a bigger hazard to his way of life than oil pipelines:
Frank Bloom, a rural Scenic rancher, has similar concerns but said his family, which has been on the land since 1916, also had problems with the rail line. He said trains sparked wildfires and sometimes struck and killed stray cattle.
If the old rail bed is to be used for anything, Bloom would prefer some kind of utility like a pipeline or transmission line rather than a recreational trail.
“There’s not a rancher on this whole line that’s for it,” Bloom said [Seth Tupper, “Dreamers Propose, Ranchers Oppose Recreational Rail-Trail Between Kadoka and Rapid City,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.02.22].
Ranchers have been fretting that we oddly clad bikers and hikers would get thirsty and hurt and ruin their cattle’s solitary digestion for years. As I said back in 2011 when I first heard this trail proposal, I would love to ride from Rapid to Kadoka across the Badlands, on a trail well-removed from the automotive risks of I-90 and Highway 44. If I get the opportunity to ride that trail, I guarantee I will bring enough water and Band-Aids to take care of myself. I also guarantee that, just as kiosks spring up to serve the needs of tourists who flock to South Dakota’s other attractions for a mostly fair price, entrepreneurs in and between Kadoka will recognize the opportunity to make a buck or three off the adventurers, both hardy and not-so, who come to experience the Great South Dakota Outback.
Ranchers Railway LLC wisely points out in its proposal to the state that ceding this public asset back to private hands will “Support increased property tax revenue for the State of South Dakota” and “Promote and support local producers and agriculture with increased livestock grazing.” Those fiscal and economic gains sound literally marginal, adding maybe a few dollars in taxes at the edges of properties and maybe a day’s worth of additional grass for cattle to eat. In its competing proposal, the City of Rapid City (sporting a logo that looks like a bicycle chainring!) cites the economic benefits of building a recreational trail:
- The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials studied the impact of Obama stimulus dollars in 2012 and found that building trails for biking and hiking “create 17 jobs (design, engineering, and construction) per $1 million spent, more than any other type of project.”
- A 2005 study found that ever dollar spent on recreational trails in Lincoln, Nebraska, resulted in $2.94 in direct medical benefits—i.e., less spent on health care.
- This year’s Mickelson Trail Trek, a three-day ride along South Dakota’s 109-mile premiere rail-to-trail, filled its 600-person registration limit in seven days and boosted regional spending by $135,000. That’s one event, one trail, one weekend. Show me the ranchers who will sell $135,000 more beef in one weekend because they get to graze a couple extra acres of hard-packed railbed.
- Diversifying the economy to include biking and hiking tourism on a rail-to-trail could provide welcome opportunity to Jackson County, where over 44% of residents live in poverty. New tourism on a rec trail is more likely to create new jobs for those Jackson County residents than a marginal increase in grazing.
Rapid City also notes that landowners expressed similar resistance to the Mickelson Trail back in the 1980s but have since come around:
Turning rails to trails gets people to go on long, scenic rides that they might not otherwise attempt on busy, risky roads. They give people an opportunity to see and feel and love South Dakota under their own power. Investing in a new trail that everyone can enjoy is a far better use of the Rapid-to-Kadoka right-of-way than ceding this public resource back to a few private landowners for marginal gains to existing activities.
Related Reading: Check out the Mako Sica (Bad Land in Lakota!) Trail Feasibility Study that Rapid City commissioned in 2012 for more detail on the economic and cultural benefits of opening the Rapid-to-Kadoka route to people power.