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Farmers Oppose Economic Development Offered by Platte–Tabor Recreational Trail

Agribusiness continues to stand in the way of robustly diversified economic development in South Dakota.

Visionaries are working to create a 75-mile rail to trail from Tabor to Platte. The trail would serve as a main northern line in a regional network of rural roads weaving weaving through the Yankton Sioux Reservation and Missouri River valley country (check out the Greenwood Loop!). The network would include existing trails around Gavins Point and connect to a proposed trail running through the Santee Sioux Reservation in Nebraska from Yankton to Niobrara:

Map of proposed Tabor–Platte recreational trail, from Friends of the Tabor-to-Platte Rail to Trail, retrieved 2021.10.22.
Map of proposed Tabor–Platte recreational trail and conceptualized regional trail network, from Friends of the Tabor-to-Platte Rail to Trail, retrieved 2021.10.22.

The promoters of this trail see a natural and historical fit for their trail as well as an opportunity for economic diversification in an area that could use some economix stimulus:

Linked by the Missouri River, Boyd and Knox counties in Nebraska and Bon Homme, Charles Mix and Gregory counties in South Dakota share geography and history. Exchange between native tribes, the fur trade, and riverboat traffic facilitated commercial interchange and cultural interaction. Both states maintain significant investment in recreation areas that offer residents and tourists quality outdoor experiences. The Standing Bear Bridge testifies how cooperative efforts between Nebraska and South Dakota can yield mutually beneficial results. Common ground exists for collaboration.

‘Friends of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail’ intends to establish a core trail on ‘railbanked’ sections of the NAPA-Platte rail line. Recommended roadway routes will link this core trail to nearby communities, to South Dakota State Park areas at Lewis and Clark Lake and Lake Francis Case, to the Missouri National Recreational River 39-segment between Fort Randall Dam and Running Water, and via the Standing Bear Bridge to Niobrara State Park including a loop through Knox, Boyd and Gregory counties to historic Fort Randall. This trail adds another recreation option to underserved parts of both states and helps diversify local economies. Our idea is scalable and implies a multi-year development horizon [Friends of the Tabor-to-Platte Rail to Trail, “Latest Trail ‘Concept’ Map,” 2021.09.01].

But narrow-minded former legislator, not Bon Homme County Commissioner Ed Van Gerpen can’t imagine how one could build this trail, what with trees in the way:

Ed Van Gerpen, a former legislator from Avon and now an elected member of the Bon Homme County Commission, spoke against the project Wednesday. He said parts of the route are overgrown by trees that would make getting equipment in “impossible” [Bob Mercer, “Rail-to-Trail Fight Splits Southeast S.D. Residents,” KELO-TV, updated 2021.10.21].

Hey, Ed! Have you seen your farmer friends tearing out shelterbelts to plant corn and beans? If trees don’t stop radical ag-industrial expansion, why should they stop development of outdoor recreation?

And you know, Ed, unlike your scorched-earth farmer friends who don’t leave as much as a sapling standing when they scrape the land bare for their cash crops, trail builders probably won’t need to clear out all of the trees; keeping some trees along the trail will actually improve their appeal.

But no, no, no, King Corn and Boss Beef should get veto power over such strolling and rolling foolishness:

Van Gerpen suggested that trail supporters get easements along the route from landowners who farm and raise livestock. “Otherwise this project will never go forward, at least in my area,” he said [Mercer, 2021.10.21].

And oh my goodness, what if someone gets hurt on the trail?

The state board received letters of opposition, too. Approximately five miles of the trail would use township and county roads.

The liability that a local government could face worried David Scott of Geddes. “As a township officer, it scares the hell out of me what might happen,” Scott said [Mercer, 2021.10.21].

Farmers and ranchers run semis and tractors and giant machines on those same township and county roads (I passed some just this week while driving through that blessed country)—what might happen when those giant vehicles disrupt traffic? How does the liability that could arise from such multi-ton metal monsters not scare the hell out of you while a few skinny people on 30-pound aluminum triangles do?

Maybe what scares township officer Scott and the writers of the opposition letters linked by Mercer is that recreation brings outsiders to town and country, people who don’t look like the factory farmers and ranchers who think their business gives them an exclusive claim to the land and its uses. (Especially hilarious: Michael and Kristi Miller, who wail, “Who will be on this trail at all hours of the day? We have a machine shed that sits 56 feet from the railroad right of way.” Um, Michael? Kristi? Folks on bicycles are neither interested in nor capable of stuffing your combine in their panniers and carting them off to their campsite or their apartment back in the Cities.) The shrinking agribusiness minority builds this mythos that says they have special rights to clog the roads with their machinery, raise dust storms, and stink up the land (“the smell of money”, we euphemize, as if one industry’s profits justify the decline in quality of life).

But as farmers leave the land, their descendants consolidated and automated out of opportunity, recreation can bring people back, not just to blast a few tame birds for a couple darkening fall months but throughout the bright and sunny spring and summer, with bicycles and backpacks that won’t harm anybody. They won’t be wearing the bibbers and seed caps that you think are the only true mark of machismo and belonging, but they’ll do good for your community.

And for those complaining about possible maintenance costs, well, whatever we taxpayers spend to build and maintain this trail will likely be only a fraction of what we spend subsidizing you farmers when your industry year after year fails to prove sufficiently profitable on its own. Consider the Platte–Tabor trail as a way to thank the rest of the country for your farm subsidies.

An economy entirely dependent on agriculture is sickly economy that will totter from drought to hail to early freeze to China tariffs with little to keep it alive but farm welfare checks. An economy that builds on a diversified portfolio of sustainable agriculture, tourism, and other industries can better stand on its own two feet and grow to meet the needs of the 21st century.


  1. ArloBlundt 2021-10-22 15:58

    Well…its beautiful country down there on both sides of the river…folks should go see it as its never been developed with tourism in mind. The Yankton and Santee Reservations have some beautiful woods and the land is rolling. The Niobrara River is great for canoeing. One of the last wild places in Eastern South Dakota and very historic, if you’re interested in rustlers, and highwaymen, river rats, and the frontier US Army.

  2. Mark Anderson 2021-10-22 16:53

    My old friend Dennis Sampson, made me buy a folding chair for our trip through South Dakota, we stopped whenever and went to a nearby hill and just watched, that area is beautiful. He’s originally from Pierre, lives in North Carolina now. It’s a great way to travel. Hope that trail goes through.

  3. Jake 2021-10-22 17:44

    Ahhh, reminiscent of the days when Mickleson worked to put together ‘rails to trails’ in the Black Hills!

    Look what that 100 miles of famous tourist beauty of an experience has done for tourism, etc. in that area! But, it was quite a battle, one you sure won’t find our current governess engaging in to bring forth to reality as she trusts her voters to make the ‘right decisions’ -after all, they put her into office, right?

  4. SuperSweet 2021-10-22 19:05

    Gov. George Mickelson got behind the 115 mile trail. I rode the inaugural Mickelson Trail Trek in 1998 and learned about all the opposition. And many subsequent rides including the Big Mick which traveled the whole 115 miles in one day.

    The trail required construction to replace train trestles and many other obstacles. Putting a trail across the plains should be a piece of cake compared to the Mickelson Trail.

    From my experience playing the liability card is not a reason but an excuse. One that naysayers to progress often play.

  5. Richard Schriever 2021-10-22 19:13

    Had a similar comment in regard to a trail plan around Lennox that would utilize the old SF to Yankton rail bed for a 1/2 mile segment. The property owner was concerned that the trail would pass by her horse pasture and the horses could hurt someone.

  6. Porter Lansing 2021-10-22 19:18

    Part of white privilege is the right to keep BIPOC away from yourself and your land.
    SD is America and Americans are white and speak only English, goddammit!

  7. Mark Winegar 2021-10-22 20:05

    I support anything that will bring people into nature where they can learn to appreciate it.

  8. Mark Anderson 2021-10-22 20:56

    We have a trail through Sarasota that goes to Venice on an old train line. It’s great goes by our house about a quarter-mile away. No problems farmers.

  9. oldtimerDon 2021-10-22 20:57

    Never assume that farmers are humble stewards of the land. That is a myth of bygone times. 95% of them are greedy bastards, sucking as much as they can on the teats of government subsidies or corporate controls. 3% of them are gone and just don’t know enough to quit or can find a way to raise dogs in deplorable conditions to sell for a living. That leaves 2% who are honest and concerned about the environment and want to do the right thing while making an honest living. Pardon me if I seem cynical! I don’t think the 2% have time to spend in Pierre doing the right things for the state.

  10. ds 2021-10-22 21:19

    Here in Rapid City there is occasional chatter from the mountain biking clubs to develop the abandoned Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad line (last operated during 1980) between Rapid City and Caputa SD. But nothing happening, the club could easily organize some weekend treks along the old rail bed to get things rolling…If they did some cleanup along the route and respected the privacy of the few private properties along the route they could gain support from those adjacent landowners.

  11. jerry 2021-10-22 21:52

    I remember Cooper Garnos support for a rails to trails from Rapid City to Kadoka on the old Milwaukee Rail line. A couple of ranchers raised all kinds of a ruckus about that. Same arguments that they all use as a broiler plate. They are living on stolen ground and they act like they own it. They always, always have their hand out for government (us) handouts so they can drink coffee in the local while whining and bitching about the government (us).

  12. Yvonne 2021-10-22 22:14

    NIMBY, an acronym for the phrase “not in my back yard”, or Nimbyism, is a characterization of opposition by residents to proposed developments in their local area, as well as support for strict land use regulations. This connotation involves those land/property owners whom believe their self interests trump anothers right to develop their land for the benefit of all nature loving peoples.
    But lets not attack farmers who oppose this type of development by focusing solely on the subsidies these farmers may or not receive. Stay focused on the fact that these farmers have no basis to object unless the new development is or will be an environmental hazard to the public or their property.
    Yet, consider the amount of tax subsidy or exemption the owners of this planned development will receive for this type of conservation nature loving development?
    Consider the farmer. Each of us enjoy the products generated by farmers don’t we? Without farmers and ranchers what consumable product would people survive on? Junk food. Good luck with daily absorption of that sort of daily consumables.
    These nimbys, I’m sure frequent and take advantage of these types of nature developments, trail areas, etc., but fail to want them in their back yard. Unreasonable and selfish.
    These types of nature retreats, properly maintained, rarely create the problems complained of by nimbys.

  13. T 2021-10-23 07:37

    So the thinking is government payments=public use of lands?
    I agree with the ag community here. We already put up pheasant hunters, ourselves spent close to $39,000 last year fixing section lines and roads tore up by out of staters. Townships have zero dollars around here. If u farm and want grains out your fixing the roads. The majority of the oublic from experience, litter tear up roads and trespass. You have hunters cutting across private lands to get to public lands with disregard. Liabilities w be questionable and I wouldn’t want kiddos around while trying to harvest, they always run amok then it’s my fault when they get hurt

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-10-23 08:24

    T, farmers do much more damage to and pose much more risk of human injury on those township roads than will bicycle tourists.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-10-23 08:27

    I don’t fall for the Saint Farmer myth-making any more than I fall for the propaganda peddled by other big corporate interests. No business gets to hog the roads and rights of way for itself. No industry sector gets to claim a place of privilege above other industry sectors or above the quality of life of the public.

    And government subsidies do matter in this discussion. Farmers have no ground to complain about the expenditure of public dollars to build and maintain recreational trails that will support the tourism industry when farming survives on public dollars.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-10-23 08:29

    Mark—bring a folding chair—what a thoughtful travel recommendation! When I go for trips, I’m always focused on bringing gear that will help me go—sandals, boots, backpack, bicycle. Maybe I need to spend more time on trips just sitting and watching in places of beauty like the Missuori River country we’re talking about here.

  17. grudznick 2021-10-23 08:31

    Mr. jerry is righter than right. Young Mr. Garnos did want the bicycle path to his west, but some old stodgy fellows guffawed it down. Think how much that could have helped the economy of the area. The fancy fellows with the expensive bikes would have to stop and buy new Presta valves and would sip wine and eat cheese at picnic tables along that trail. Motels in Kadoka and Caputa would thrive. Even gasoline consumption would grow as the shuttle vans buzzed about.

  18. RS 2021-10-23 08:40

    I could respond to nearly every post made so far. I farm, I enjoy nature, I’m on a township board, I believe too much money is dished out to some farmers that haven’t done anything to deserve it, I believe some of the public are environmental slobs.
    Nearly 50 years ago our family had the opportunity to purchase the railroad right of way that crossed a quarter of our land diagonally. Instead of farming triangles and polygons we were able to reconnect and farm rectangular fields more efficiently. Yes, it was our self interest that opposed having the Game Fish and Parks owning it for a trail thru the middle of a corn field. Now, having the ability to freely cross that old ROW with cattle w/o opening and closing two gates, allows for an extensive rotational grazing system. I’m sure some would relish the act of walking or biking through a grassland with its diversity now, like I do.
    We also have a half mile of lake shore property that is undeveloped for housing, but the lake in certain times of the year has excellent shoreline walleye fishing. The majority of the shoreline requires permission from us to access, except where a township road abuts the shore. If someone asks permission to fish, I grant it, knowing that they will pick up their trash of cans, fishing line, candy wrappers if they want to ever come back. The area next to the road open to anyone is constantly accumulating junk, even when they decide to have a fire pit on the road and leave it.
    While majority may rule sometimes, its a minority of fools that make life complicated for the rest.

  19. Yvonne 2021-10-23 09:45

    Sorry, Cory but not ALL farmers and ranchers survive on public dollars; they rely on the market–how much will their physical working on the land the condition the land is to generate an income from an economy and the weather that changes on a year to year and bi-annual basis.

    Most farmers and ranchers dont apply for nor receive government assistance not because they don’t need or want to be one easy street like those that take advantage of the system because they can. It’s those greedy freeloaders (those mentioned on this blog before) which make it bad for those farmers and ranchers that would rather fend on there own and do without any assistance whatsoever.
    Remember they pay taxes too which pays for any public generating improvements.

    As I have commented before, one really has no basis to comment unless one knows all the facts. Too often each of us are quick to judge something withit merit until one either has actually lived the situation or are quite familiar with all the facts.

    This one of those examples that demonstrates the insidiousness of humanities partialty. It is clear that the effects of partiality are the real problem. A person can have the best of intentions and reasons for his bias—but the reactions of those not in favor cause events to spin out of control. At other times, and certainly in most cases of human bias, the respect of persons(partiality) is clearly wrong from the outset, and the carnal reactions of those it affects just makes matters worse.
    We all can do better.

  20. John 2021-10-23 10:45

    The proposal by the ‘Friends of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail’ is brilliant. The Corps of Engineers lacked a vision for converting its reservoir take lands into recreation aside from a handful of boat ramps. It never ceases to amaze how stubborn Luddite locals champion against their interests, the interests of their community, and the interests of their children and grandchildren.

    Instead of having ‘The Thune Trail’ from Caputo to Rapid City, or, ‘The Johnson Trail’ on the bluffs — we settle for dust from our go-along-to-get-along politicians who lack a vision beyond pocketing their next temporary donation. Certainly South Dakota lacks a politician with the vision, integrity, and fortitude to support and drive a legacy project. (We likely will not see another Norbeck or Mickelson in our lifetimes.) Communities along Mickelson and other trails enumerate trails economic advantages. I wish the “Friends’ well with their Herculean Odyssey.

  21. Yvonne 2021-10-23 11:28

    The Hill City area where the proposed Mickelson trail, at the time, was going to traverse brought about such opposition which led to several court battles on the issue. After the trail was put to use, apparently none of fhe adverse affects claimed came. Nothing to to report on there….silence and the project has been a benefit to the public as its intended purpose as forecasted. NIMBYISM

  22. T 2021-10-23 15:54

    CH your putting corporate and us “others” in same basket
    You won’t find my name on government checks for subsidies.
    What Yvonne said. Above about that

    This is poorly planned and not “genius” it would be same circus as public hunting. The public hunting is disregarded where to enter where to hunt thus unsafe conditions for everyone ,trespassing crops ruined from vehicles driving on them, not or never said one side is safer than other put the two together is a recipe with our drought and dust for the 5 accidents (no fatal) in last month.

  23. larry kurtz 2021-10-23 16:09

    The right of way for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad was carved out of unceded tribal lands in 1880 before South Dakota was even a state. All of that rail bed should be remanded to the Yankton Sioux, Santee Sioux and Ponca Nations.

  24. T 2021-10-23 16:14

    That’s the problem no etiquette, no knowledge on how to drive with ag vehicles on the road. And everyone believing they have the right away and just as much right, w no middle grounds , reinforcement of trespassers, because we need the tourists dollars,. I only compare with hunters because is compare able to the public mentality of access, which hasn’t been favorable in our area because the “sign sand rules don’t seem to apply. Where and how will there be emergency access for emergency vehicles? We respond to MN NE and IA citizens here with twisted ankles and unfortunately heart attacks on private lands no where near public access….where limits were disregarded or stretched.
    Just saying putting a trail in and everyone saying yippie because of “rights” is premature or in this case immature.
    This plan looks like they are slapping some pavement down, study WA entrances, Emergency availability, access on and off trails that are safe, actual organized patrolling and trail security…..then I’ll say good for us and hats off to us that actually are getting in shape and enjoying our scenery

  25. William Rosin 2021-10-23 16:38

    Yvonne, we get junk food FROM the industrial grown, almost 100%, corn and beans, such diversity that you could train your parrot to say it, corn and beans, corn and beans.
    there was great opposition to the Mickelson trail, now the citizens of Mystic feed us lemon bars, and in Hill City we get cheese and crackers.

  26. Porter Lansing 2021-10-23 18:46

    Been at the bar, today T?
    I’ll bet you a year’s wages that within five minutes of looking at your tax returns I can find three instances of you receiving federal handouts.
    Given an hour, I can find another five.
    Pretty “high and mighty” and “self inflated”, you are.

  27. grudznick 2021-10-23 19:04

    Tomorrow, Mr. Lansing, all present will laugh at your “ability” to read a financial statement.

    The Opening Rant, at the Conservatives with Common Sense breakfast, entails how “Libble privilege” has jaded 30% of the population. Libbie privilege is just insaner than most, and cooks who make the fine flapjacks we shall breakfast upon have no real understanding of finance.

    Stop by folks, all the sausages and gravy taters are paid for by grudznick, and your opinion on the Libble privilege can be spouted after the Opening Rant. Tomorrow will be a good one.

  28. Porter Lansing 2021-10-23 19:51

    “goat-nick” continues to fantasize that any group would eat a meal with him.

    Our mutual friend Bob told me he once took up the offer to meet the “Conservaturds without Senses” for Sunday breakfast and no one was there or had ever seen or heard of such a group, in that or any Rapid City restaurant or cafe.

    PS … I’ll put my accounting/auditing skill against your’s for any wager you’d be able to prove you possess, grudzflour. USD Vermillion, here compared against some Catholic school in Nebraska, for you.

    I come from a long line of “bean counters’, whereas you come from a short line of liars and thieves aka lobbyists.

  29. grudznick 2021-10-23 22:06

    Mr. Lansing, I think you refer to the time Bob, a swell fellow, went to the wrong place, and grudznick had to eat two complete breakfasts. Bob was lacking. As is often his wont.

    Come back to the Hills that are Black, and let us educate you. Tomorrow it shall be at the usual location for a Sunday morn in October. Our non-pheasant hunters show up in mass, plus those few radicals that hate on Governor Noem and like grudznick are boycotting the Sioux Falls outing this weekend. Mr. Jensen and his ilk are usually not in attendance, for our Sargent at Arm often has made clear none of their shenanigans are tolerated.

  30. jerry 2021-10-24 14:33

    Yvonne, if you lease government land (treaty lands) for a fraction of the cost of leasing in the real world, what do you call it but a handout?

  31. Porter Lansing 2021-10-24 15:48

    No, grudznick. Bob went to the place you refuse to name.

    So, name it or STFU.

  32. Yvonne 2021-10-24 21:01

    Jerry, you have a very good point and I more likely than not agree that government leased land is leased at a very dispropitionate level than private land. However, I don’t lease any land…from the government or otherwise.
    But I do pay my fair share of taxes on… fuel, real estate, food, etc. and especially to Uncle Sam.

  33. jerry 2021-10-24 22:36

    Me too Yvonne, but I do wonder about those who complain about something as community benefitting as an outdoor trail. That does make me wonder what handouts are they getting to disregard public use so they feel superior to those who support their industry.

  34. Yvonne 2021-10-24 23:22

    Jerry, could be the objectionists are not getting any handouts at all…who knows and one cannot speculate that is always the case. There’s alot of nimbys (not in my back yard) folk that just believe they are superior over the rest because of status, money or power and or just cannot adapt to change and can’t see the trees through the forest.

  35. ArloBlundt 2021-10-24 23:38

    yvonne…you are correct, its very difficult for many people to visualize a recreational trail for non motorized use…it just goes counter to our mechanized, motorized culture. Why would anyone want to walk or pedal rather than drive a four wheeler or SUV or side by side or motorcycle???If you want to hike or bike, you must be very odd and maybe dangerous. Of course, the opposite is true.

  36. jerry 2021-10-25 00:16

    What am I saying? I meant white privilege, Of course, that goes with subsidies, so that about covers it.

  37. Al Christensen 2021-11-22 19:17

    As is too typical with almost any issue in this day and age there seems to need to be a winner and a lower. As a cyclist that has riden rail trails in South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri I am all for the trail. I have seen the benefits to the local communities that welcome the cyclists. I see a fraction of the litter on the trails compared to what I see on highways and other roadways. But we (the cycling community) have no right to expect the farming community to blindly go along with plans that could disrupt farming operations that they have practiced for years. I am from Sioux Falls but I have friends and family in the Geddes area, one a cattle farmer that needs to move his heard from one side to another for water. This is an easy obstacle to overcome with weighted one way cattle gates like they have on the Mickelson Trail. We need civility and to be able to respect one another to sit down, hear the concerns, and address them. I spent alot of my falls and summers going up in that area and look forward to sharing that region with other cyclists.

    So without name calling, can we address real concerns? Acknowledge there will be no liability on the property owners or local governments? Accept, like on the Mickelson Trail and some roads i cycled in Texas, that it’s OK for cattle to have access to the trail, and that part of building the trail will include one way weighted gated that allow cyclists through and keep the cattle in place?

    What other concerns are there?

  38. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-11-23 06:50

    Al raises a good point about liability: how many adjoining landowners have had to pay for injuries suffered by users of the Mickelson Trail?

  39. Elizabeth Smith 2021-11-23 15:09

    Years ago I heard all these negative comments when I worked on a rail trail in Connecticut. Once it was built, the cycling/running trail was beloved by the entire community. Abutting landowners who worried about crime and mayhem found that their land increased in value and they especially liked that they could use the trail conveniently. Healthy trails promote healthy people. Let’s get it built!

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