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Ranchers Want to Buy Rapid-Kadoka Right of Way to Block Wonderful Rec Trail

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].

MRC Rail Line, Mitchell to Rapid City
MRC Rail Line, Mitchell to Rapid City, railbanked right-of-way from Rapid to Kadoka highlighted in green (click to embiggen!); from SD Dept. Transportation, “Letting Detail” Attachment G: Maps and Track Charts, retrieved 2019.12.25.

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

City of Rapid City, Response to SDDOT Invitation for Proposals to Purchase State-Owned Rail Lines, 2019.11.20
City of Rapid City, Response to SDDOT Invitation for Proposals to Purchase State-Owned Rail Lines, 2019.11.20

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.


  1. grudznick 2019-12-25 10:01

    It would be fine for the bicyclists and Eastern South Dakota Spandex Team ™ to sport their shorts on a trail from Caputa to Kadoka. Better to keep more of them out thataway than clogging the pub routes through the Black Hills, and as Mr. H points out Jackson County could use a few bucks thrown their way. Tonchi Weaver and the Citizens for Liberty could have a booth by her house at the start of this trail.

  2. mike from iowa 2019-12-25 10:32

    I can just about imagine how much grass will grow in creosote infested railbed and right of ways saturated with chemicals to kill noxious weeds, if they treat rail beds in South Dakota the way they did in iowa.

    As a youngster we used to walk the tracks out of Cherokee to target practice and later to hunt pheasants. The right of way was full of bull thistles, prime fodder and nesting sites for Gold Finches, until the RR (Illinois Central Passenger) sprayed them in summer. I assume the other rail line, CNW, did the same going Northeast out of town.

    Cherokee took over the eastern track and made a hiking/biking path from the Hiway 3 bypass North of town down to the South end of Spring Lake Park, a good 2 miles or more.

  3. Buckobear 2019-12-25 11:00

    Ah, Twentieth century South Dakota thinking.

  4. John 2019-12-25 11:12

    What a pathetic attitude and life to lead of scarcity where EVERYTHING is an external threat to ones existence. Instead of ‘drive through’ country; the trail proposal would create a destination, jobs, more economic activity along the corridor and trail head towns — as has every other rails-to-trails project. Certainly there are best practices to design and operate a trail — as these are part of the Mickelson Trail.

    And recall that “we the people” are the ultimate property owner. Doubt it – skip paying your annual property tax ‘rent’ to see how long it takes for the sheriff sale to re-allocate the highest and best use of “your” property.

  5. Loren 2019-12-25 11:34

    If ranchers want the land to revert to a natural state and returned to original owners, perhaps they should contact some of the tribal elders. Oh, is that reverting a bit too far back? ;-)

  6. jerry 2019-12-25 11:51

    This gang of BRIBE takers show why feeling sorry for ag producers so called plight, is a fool’s errand. This group of fakes take tax payer subsidies and then want to deny taxpayer access to what was public ground stolen from the Natives. Hypocrisy be thy name. Stop BRIBING these outlaws and put them to work so they don’t have so much time on their hands to watch Chubby and his snowflakes on the teevee. Don’t come crying and bitching around about no money, you all just proved you’re flush with money. COOL now means Crooked Old Outlaw Lies. Shame on you.

  7. Buckobear 2019-12-25 12:06

    What’s the difference between a rancher and a puppy?
    Eventually, the puppy stops whining.

  8. grudznick 2019-12-25 13:11

    The established order of whininess:


  9. mike from iowa 2019-12-25 14:14

    Of course Grudzilla intentionally left off the worst whiner- drumpf.

  10. bearcreekbat 2019-12-25 15:35

    A fellow I knew years ago owned a home outside of Hill City with his land divided 1/3 – 2/3 by an abandoned railroad right of way. He objected to placing the Mickelson trail on this path across his front yard precisely because he had moved outside of town for seclusion and privacy. Otherwise, he would have chosen to live in town with public sidewalks and parks in front of or next to his home.

    He also feared that a public path between his home and out buildings might make it easier for miscreants to get close enough to more easily enter, damage, or steal from his detached garage, shop and horse barn right next to the trail. His driveway also crossed the path and he worried about vehicles coming to his home endangering bicycle or foot traffic.

    All these concerns seemed reasonable, but in the end he was unsuccessful in preventing the conversion to the trail.

  11. Debbo 2019-12-25 15:37

    Get Sonny Perdue and the USDA on it. They’ll make everything worse.

  12. Debbo 2019-12-25 15:39

    In the meantime, John is correct. This is a prime example of SD’s fearful mindset of scarcity and the danger of change. The SDGOP has really bred that into the state and it limits even their thinking.

    That fearful mindset makes the citizens easy to control. It’s the playbook Frothing Fearmonger has used his entire life.

  13. grudznick 2019-12-25 16:24

    Mr. bat, I may know the same fellow or one much like him. Today he deals daily with the miscreants, and it is no small thing. The out-of-state ones are the worst, he says, and is pushing hard to cut the tourism advertising on the internets and tv.

  14. grudznick 2019-12-25 18:26

    Mr. H, could this be a target for one of those measures, initiated, by you and your followers?

  15. Porter Lansing 2019-12-25 19:07

    Obtaining enjoyment from denying other’s enjoyment. (Just denying yourself isn’t enough, anymore.)

  16. Donald Pay 2019-12-26 08:30

    Bearcreekbat points out that there were folks along the Mickelson Trail who had legitimate concerns. People aren’t always simply automatic NIMBYs. I supported that trail, but I knew several of the people who were fighting it for very legitimate reasons.

    Give people a few years along a bike trail and mostly they come to think it’s fine. People who ride bikes out in the country aren’t going to rustle or harass cattle, get loud and obnoxious or window peep. Emergencies do happen along bike trails, so that is a legitimate issue, as is fire danger, though trains and electrical lines are probably much more of a hazard. Those have to be dealt with honestly, up-front. Around Wisconsin there’s a fee charged for riding on the state trails to offset maintenance and some of these issues. One of the benefits of a trail is that it can provide opportunities for ranchers to educate city folks about agriculture and land stewardship or sell products from their farm/ranch.

  17. happy camper 2019-12-26 10:04

    To see it from the other side a rancher was telling me kayakers go down their tributaries. They start in the river then find it interesting to shoot off to smaller tributaries where special fences are laid across they’ve been cut numerous times with unpleasant results. There’s always an element it seems to me if the government took these easements for one particular reason it’s an overreach to keep them for something as unrelated as public amusement.

  18. Super Sweet 2019-12-26 12:11

    I rode the inaugural Mickelson Trail Trek in 1998. I got a good orientation from the organizers on all the opposition they were faced with during the construction of the trail. Non have played out. I rode five more Treks plus a bunch of rides on my own. The trail through the Badlands would be a great attraction for the state and I predict the organizers will be successful as they were with the Mick Trail. It would be good to have a cheerleader like George Mickelson.

  19. bret clanton 2019-12-26 12:54

    How would this compare to the future de-commissioning of the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines?

  20. Donald Pay 2019-12-26 13:48

    Happy camper, Streams that are navigable or fishable are public resources. People do have a right to be on or in them if they access them legally. Fences may encroach on those public resources. I understand this is a matter of contention, but privatizing of public resources is theft.

  21. jerry 2019-12-26 13:54

    “their tributaries” Not so fast. “The majority of Western states allow public use of rivers that flow through private property to some degree. … Rafters can float and fishermen can wade in rivers that flow through private land so long as they enter from public property. They can even leave the river and walk up to the high-water mark.”

  22. jerry 2019-12-26 13:57

    When the pipelines are decommissioned, they will be recommissioned to drain water to all parts down stream, east, west, and south. Hello Texas. South Dakota will still not see a dime from the pillage. Buy Nestle stock as they are the key holders of water rights.

  23. happy camper 2019-12-26 16:56

    Don’t hold your breath bike riders Noem and her right hand man will be most sympathetic to fellow ranchers. Wherever people go stupidy follows like the hiker last week on Mt. Baldy who insisted going on alone then a rescuer lost his life. From an enthusiasts perspective of course this would be fun winter riding too if that’s allowed just try to see the other side. The state desperately needs more of these things, but just cause we have that appreciation doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Related to tributaries probably the law is not well understood many of those are just temporary, dry most of the time animals have to be contained just cause there’s water in a stream doesn’t mean you get to go anywhere. Those poor people near Webster lost their farm to the lake then the hunters and fishermen thought they should get to go traipsing all over the place talk about insult to injury but the court restricted that if I remember correctly.

  24. jerry 2019-12-26 17:42

    I wonder when the Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association will rise up to defend their organization from Franky Boy.

    happy camper has never bothered to come out to western South Dakota to even see this old rail bed. Much to easy to just troll. Regarding Mt. Baldy. that is a peak in California. Weta is not a peak in the Badlands.

    Those poor people in Webster that lost their family to the lake are just the beginning of what we will see with climate burn. Climate warming is over, now comes the bake.

  25. Wayne B. 2019-12-26 20:03


    You’re mistaken about public access to waterways in South Dakota. You can float on the public’s water, but if you touch ground on private land, even the river bed, you’re trespassing.

  26. JW 2019-12-26 20:28

    This trail is remarkable and has been a boon to Valentine (the trail starts in town), and points east. I’ve walked and jogged parts of it and it is as scenic and serene as any trail in the Black Hills. The Rancher attitude is typical…..It’s that “landed gentry” controlling attitude that says that all foreigners and city people are threats to their otherwise peaceful existence and they are an unwarranted and unwelcome interruption to landownership. They trespass, they throw garbage, they build fires and burn things up, tear out fence posts, relieve themselves and leave unsanitary materials; they might hunt and shoot things from the trail…… City people are a nuisance and we don’t need them around, but we expect to be treated like royalty when we show up with our cows and horses at the Black Hills Stock Show or desperately need tractor or bailer parts on credit at the implement dealer.

  27. JW 2019-12-26 20:50

    The trail I mentioned in my previous post is the Cowboy Trail near Valentine Nebraska. If Nebraska can do it, so can we! Mr. Bloom can keep his isolationist attitude in his barn..

    Cowboy Trail
    The Cowboy Trail currently runs 195 miles across northern Nebraska, following the old Chicago & Northwestern rail route from Norfolk in the east to Valentine in the west. The railroad called this the “Cowboy Line.”

    Cowboy Trail

  28. jerry 2019-12-26 22:03

    Wayne B, You will note “majority of Western states” ““The majority of Western states allow public use of rivers that flow through private property to some degree. … Rafters can float and fishermen can wade in rivers that flow through private land so long as they enter from public property. They can even leave the river and walk up to the high-water mark.”

    Where does the quote for South Dakota laws come into play? What is that quote and law and how is it different from the laws that I noted above? The river bed?? You’re kidding of course.

  29. jerry 2019-12-26 22:36

    JW, I was at the meeting when this was first discussed. Cooper Garnos was the former legislator that was the speaker. Stan Adelstein and so was Lyndell Petersen (I think) there as well and many others who were in support of this multi use trail. There were talks about sanitary stops during events with kiosks for repairs for bikes along with refreshments. We’re talking employment opportunity here then! Check this out

    Indeed, trail riding, but no motorized vehicles on the trail. Bicycle, walking, jogging and horse travel. There was support from Interior on this project as well as the folks in Kadoka who asked Mr. Garnos for support on this matter. Mr. Garnos said that he had made a promise to those folks in Kadoka to do put this land aside for public use and that is exactly what the meeting was about.

    Frank Bloom is not the only Republican rancher that has a voice in this, there are many many other Republicans who fully support the trail. These same Republicans of support are business minded ranchers and others who know that with this kind of economic development in this area, helps keep the stores open and provides money for the school district. It could also provide employment for their kids and other family members.

    Regarding fires. Interior has a top notch fire department with very good equipment as do Kadoka and Wall. Ambulance service from Kadoka and Wall can handle any problems as they have proven on the interstate highway system. Rapid City has their new helipad up and running at the newly renovated portion of Rapid City Regional. Fire and safety are covered. Frank Bloom’s strawmen arguments are without merit. This seems like a land grab to me. The Department of Tourism should put the money up for this project and be quick about it, call it the Cooper Garnos Trail.

  30. jerry 2020-01-03 13:32

    The City of Rapid City has a proposal in as well for this 100 mile stretch. Rapid City is a proven leader in protecting and expanding existing ways of encouraging growth and use. So, come on state, do something that actually helps the economy. What good is a bunch of bitchy ranchers to the state for this small parcel of land.

    “The Mako Sica Trail would connect with the Leonard Swanson Memorial Pathway–that runs along Rapid Creek—through the Badlands and to Kadoka.

    Patsy Horton is the Long Range Planning Division Manager for Rapid City. She says there’s a growing need for additional shared use paths in South Dakota.

    “We thought that this would be a great opportunity for the city to take the lead on trying to get that trail constructed and provide additional economic opportunities for communities to the east, between here and Kadoka,” Horton says.”

    As you will note, Franky boy has the usual Indian hate dog whistle with “dirty diapers and empty cans, candy wrappers” on only his property along the Michelson Trail. Franky is a sad excuse for representation of ranchers. He only shows their collective hate for economic development. Easy for them to drive to Rapid City rather than use the local businesses that could clearly benefit from this trail.

  31. Debbo 2020-01-03 13:41

    More business for New Underwood!

    Really, don’t these people realize they’re talking about people who are hauling their own stuff around. It’s not like they’re loading up an ATV or motorcycle or pickup with a cooler of beer and chips. Who is going to weigh down their bicycle with beer and ice? 🙄smh🙄

  32. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-01-04 08:08

    I heard that “dirty diaper” comment on SDPB and thought, “What the heck?” I’ve been on the Mickelson Trail many times, and I don’t recall encountering many if any dirty diapers or empty cans. There aren’t a lot of babies on the trail, and most of the outdoorsy types who set off down the trial with babies are probably equipped both with decent strollers or child backpacks and diaper bags. And cans? Debbo rightly questions that assertion: who goes hiking with unresealable cans of anything? People bring their beverages in reusable water bottles and hydration packs. If they bring a beverage from the store, they carry a plastic bottle with a cap. The only cans I can imagine carrying while hiking are maybe a couple cans of tuna or beans… but that’s only if I plan to through-hike and camp out overnight somewhere off trail. The Mickelson Trail does not allow camping, so Mickelson Trail users are almost exclusively folks who are just putting in miles and then going to eat and sleep in town or at a campground elsewhere. So I don’t know where Frank Bloom thinks he’s seeing diapers and cans, but it’s not along the Mickelson Trail.

    Like Jerry, I hear a certain opposition to economic development in Bloom’s comment. As Jerry suggests with his “dog whistle” comment, there’s also a distinct dislike for people not like himself. The subtext to his complaint is that hikers, bicyclists, and tourists in general aren’t manly-men like Frank and his fellow ranchers. He seems to view us outdoors enthusiasts us granola-munching sissies who can’t survive a half-day outside without our phones and some big strong rancher to come save us from our foolishness.

    But maybe it’s just selfishness and resistance to change. I can sympathize with not wanting other people around—heck, I don’t want travelers knocking on my door all the time asking for water and potty breaks… but if I had that problem, I’d put up a “Grouchy Old Man Lives Here—No Trespassing” sign and wouldn’t answer my door. (Of course, if I had a trail like the Mickelson Trail running along my property, you’d never find me at home—I’d be out running or biking the trail all the time!) But unless I’m going to go live in the desert, I have to accept the fact that I share the world with others and that trying to buy up every parcel of land touching mine to prevent anyone from ever bothering me is a fool’s errand.

    I also recognize that I can’t stop other people from having and enjoying different hobbies. I can’t stop the world from changing. I can’t stop trains going away or bicycle tourism coming into vogue. I can’t stop the market from deciding there’s more money to be made from selling people outdoor vacations than in selling my beef.

    There was a point where I actually did stew the way Frank appears to about land development. I lived next to a shelterbelt. Some new neighbors moved in and tore out a chunk of that shelterbelt to build a fancy house. For years I felt great angst about the prospect of other people moving in and tearing up the rest of those trees. I wondered what I could do to save up my money, buy that land, and put in in trust so it would remained wooded forever.

    Then I moved, and moved again. I also realized that no effort I could expend would forever prevent some patch of ground from someday changing hands and becoming something other than what I prefer. The more tightly we clasp, the faster the earth runs through our fingers. The money and effort I would spend trying to acquire land, fence it, maintain it, and pay taxes on it will provide me far more utility if directed to making my own residence comfortable, buying nice pedal-power machines and computing/communication devices, and treating myself and my family to travel and other fine experiences… like riding the Mickelson Trail and, someday, the Kadoka Line (perhaps to be named for our next Governor and extended all the way to Burke and the Missouri River: the Sutton Trail!).

  33. bearcreekbat 2020-01-04 11:00

    Cory, your “land development” memory touched a nerve. Many years ago we bought an old farmhouse surrounded by undeveloped land. I was distraught when someone purchased a rustic field next to our place and began construction of a new house, as I feared a loss of privacy. I offered to buy the land from him to stop this development, but he refused saying he planned on building his “dream house.” A few years later he added an even larger new home on another adjoining lot. Suddenly we had a neighborhood.

    The result was basically no loss of privacy, rather, a beautifying of the area and great neighbors. To top it off the orginal purchaser still resides in one of the houses he built and every time we have a bad snowstorm he uses his ATV to clear our lengthy driveway gratis! Who knew?

  34. mike from iowa 2020-01-04 12:31

    bcb, I am shocked you didn’t buy him out so you could add on a car elevator. Isn’t, or wasn’t that trendy a few short years ago? TIC

  35. Porter Lansing 2020-01-04 12:52

    If you want “real” privacy move to a downtown area of any big city. People don’t gossip about their neighbors or even give them a second thought, unless the neighbor needs help.
    *My motto remains and it especially applies to timid South Dakoters … “Don’t be concerned with what others think about you because they rarely do. People spend 90% of their thoughts thinking about themselves. Sounds selfish but it’s really perfect privacy.”

  36. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-01-05 12:17

    Good story, BCB! It makes me think that it’s just as likely that Rancher Frank might one day fall off his horse or be in some other jam and find himself aided by some bike trail passerby.

    Porter, I spent many years thinking I was a country guy. My housing trajectory and preference spent this decade heading in the other direction.

    But whether my residence is inside or outside city limits, I want to live right next to a good bicycle trail.

  37. Porter Lansing 2020-01-05 12:28

    Cory. I was, too. When I moved to CO, after three years in the oil fields of Gillette, WY, I got a home in the mountains. I felt I was a country guy and what more beautiful and rural place than the Rockies? I soon learned that platoons of “solace seekers” invaded my space starting before sunrise every Saturday and lasting till late Sunday night. The local cafes were packed. Same with the grocery stores, entertainment outlets, parks, and roads. It wasn’t what I envisioned life in the mountains would be. Those irritants along with much harsher weather convinced me to move down to the city quickly. As I noted, the real privacy is on a city street on the weekend. The people are gone, chasing after relaxation.

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