Press "Enter" to skip to content

Campground Owners Complain Noem Betrays Free Market with Custer Campsite Expansion Plan

Caroline Woods isn’t the only traditional conservative feeling betrayed by Governor Kristi Noem. Private campground owners in the Black Hills say Governor Noem is threatening their livelihood with her proposal to spend $9.89 million to put 50% more campgrounds in Custer State Park:

Steve Saint owns Fort Welikit Family Campground, which is just south of the state park. He’s also the president of the South Dakota Campground Owners Association.

He says the campground expansion sounds good while outdoor tourism is high during the pandemic. Saint expects tourism to slow down in five years. He says that slowdown will negatively affect private campgrounds in the area, not the park.

“The private campgrounds are stepping up to handle the influx,” Saint says. “The state park doesn’t need to. Because in five years that state park is still going to be full and I’m going to have empty sites.

“How many campgrounds are going to go under because the state, in five years, finally when things start slowing down—we have direct competition?” Saint adds. “How many campgrounds are going to go out of business because they’re not getting customers because they’re all going to Custer State Park?” [Lee Strubinger, “Private Campground Owner Worried About Custer State Park Campsite Expansion Plan,” SDPB Radio, 2022.01.07]

Some campground owners are saying Noem is betraying them and her professed free-market principles:

…several individual campground owners told the Argus Leader last week they feel betrayed by Noem’s proposal.

Many accused the governor of hypocrisy for regularly championing free market virtues while pushing to increase state government’s share of the Black Hills campground market.

“We just feel we can’t compete against the financial might of state government,’ said Bill Paterson, owner of the Big Pine Campground about a mile southwest of the city of Custer. “We always thought she was a governor who would be on the side of small business, but frankly, it’s standing on the throats of small business.”

Paterson said he’d prefer those dollars be invested standing up season workforce housing that would aid the private campgrounds in the Black Hills [Joe Sneve, “Gov. Noem’s $10M Campground Plan Raises Traffic, Wildlife Concerns in Custer State Park,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2022.01.18].

Note: these free marketeers still want socialism, but only socialism that subsidizes their private profit… in which case, they align perfectly with Kristi Noem’s principles.

Before we debate who should get to build and make money on campgrounds in the Black Hills, we perhaps should consider whether it is wise to add any more campsites in the Black Hills. There’s already plenty of room to go camping in the Black Hills: park at the trailhead, strap on a pack, hike in a few miles, and you can camp for free out in the wilderness of the Black Hills National Forest. The Black Hills National Forest is a public treasure, properly protected by government and allocated by socialism to all of us for gentle use. Do we really want any actor, public or private, to chop down more trees and lay more pavement and electrical lines and latrines for a bunch of big RVs that run their generators and AC all night and make the woods sound like just another noisy town?

The Custer campground expansion is House Bill 1048, which awaits the attention of House Agriculture and Natural Resources.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-01-18 08:56

    Mrs. Noem is a CINO (conservative in name only). A South Dakota town named for a war criminal just burned a native insect in effigy again but veteran columnist Kevin Woster wants to change the name of that state park because it’s offensive to Indigenous Americans.

  2. sx123 2022-01-18 09:06

    That’s exactly right. Talk free market with one side of the mouth, and do something else with the other. Govt in competition with free enterprise here. Giving tax breaks to Amazon, Walmart, etc at the cost of small shop owners is another example.

  3. Mark Anderson 2022-01-18 09:14

    Come on, if the campground owners would just give her a kickback, she would watch over them.

  4. O 2022-01-18 09:37

    This is a perfect example of a bit of real governance creeping into the Governor’s campaigning/culture war/dog whistling. I appreciate that this proposal is looking at SD, its natural resources, and the tourism potential for both enriching tourism and experiences in the Black Hills. I might have a few hang ups on how to best implement increased tourism, but this is at least a meaningful proposal of policy.

    The private-public solution debate seems to have been settled in the fact there is this issue. If privates were handling the problem, there would be not reason for the state to even be peeking into their turf for a solution. It exposes the reality that privates are not the solution to all problems; in fact, privates are VERY seldom the sole solution to any issue. Whether it is the misinformed notion that charitable giving can replace the welfare state, or business can meet all the needs of people, the line is always drawn at profitability and not common good. Anytime the rubber meets the road on the public/private issue, privates come up short when REAL solutions are needed.

  5. Donald Pay 2022-01-18 09:59

    If you’re gonna camp, camp for real. Parking an RV somewhere ain’t camping. I never camped at any place that had any more convenience than a pit biffy. I realize some folks aren’t quite as hardcore as I am, and small kids make it a little more difficult to be hardcore, but some campgrounds are little more than glorified hotels these days. I just question the need for any more of that, whether it’s public or private.

  6. jerry 2022-01-18 12:27

    Mark Anderson, they have given her kickbacks with free stuff for her campaigns. No, there is no real money in campground owners, the real money is in the developers and contractors on her governors list. Come on man.

  7. leslie 2022-01-18 12:32

    Camping for many is outside drinking, drugs, chairs, fire, food, more drinking, no sleeping on the ground, showers, and when the RV starts rocking…you know the rest. Better than the bar, in the summer. Tourists/bikers are trying to avoid hotel costs on vacation. I might prefer CSP over mega KOA Palmer Gulch which is absolutely gorgeous surrounded by an RV/tent city with campfires and poor garbage collection. Kids love it though. THAT is VIP!

    But why pay the state? And Center Lake is no diff than Palmer G. Then there is the lake, the boat, jet skis, the rotisserie, the boom box, the trailer, the gas guzzler 4×4 pickup fully loaded. Instead carry your tent up an isolated mountain without a soul around, like Cory says. Until you can’t anymore.

    (Disclaimer: DFP is not much diff than KOA. It’s the ‘merican condition. Exceptional. Until GOP wrests power back. And bears. And poison Ivy.)

  8. Richard Schriever 2022-01-18 13:36

    When I was a kid, we camped out in the hills on my great uncle’s mining claim. Tents, mud, bison across the fence (and a shaky fence it was), chipmunks raiding the food stores etc. Could se the gold (or was it fool’s gold?) running down the ruts in the trail when it rained. My dad got poison ivy so bad he was in bed sick for a week when we got home. Yep, that’s the way to do it. That’s how REAL “memories are made”.

    FWIW, that KOA is run by a California part-time resident couple. They are descendants of another great uncle who left SD @ WW2. The profits go out of state – not so different to the situation discussed around how SD ag REALLY works here a week or so ago. I have to assume much of SDs tourist economy operates the same way. Out of state and/or corporate owners draining money away.

  9. larry kurtz 2022-01-18 14:07

    Same with the Game, Fish and Plunder’s jihadi training complex: finding a contractor and crews to build a glamping megaplex using already stressed roadways is a bridge too far for anyone not paying into the Governor’s Club, Future Fund or Mrs. Noem’s campaign war chest.

  10. Mark Anderson 2022-01-18 15:56

    Sorry Jerry, it was a stretch but it was early morning, now that I’m wined up I’ll get serious. I’m sure that none of the current operators have engaged in price fixing have they? OK that’s not that serious either, of course they have.
    Now, what happened to that Fred Flintstone site or you could ad Yogi and Tony to the sites. Who has all that Flintstone regalia anyway? I’d stay in a stone tent. Why not a mammoth site at the mammoth site. A Cave Carson site at Wind cave. Batman at a cave with bats….The possibilities are endless.
    Oh well, O seems to have it down pat. The public private thing goes way back. Who needs healthcare for everyone when you’ve got a Danny Thomas. You know all us non churchers are usually for state involvement, the church boys want the church not the state. Now if they could get the graft out of those charities.

  11. John Dale 2022-01-18 16:54

    Noem is not acting alone.

    Her team is not behaving constitutionally or conservatively consistently.

    It’s troubling .. doesn’t mean she’ll lose.

    But it’s troubling.

    Will she primary Thune?

  12. grudznick 2022-01-18 18:24

    Unfortunately there are some out-of-state fellows who come to South Dakota, and frankly some real South Dakotans too, who are not as hardcore as Mr. Pay and grudznick are. These sissy-fellows want to do what they now call glamping. It is what people want. The whiners who don’t like it are shutting down the Flintstones and the Shade Valleys of the world. I say shut down all public campgrounds and chase the tourists away!

  13. JW 2022-01-19 09:25

    SD State Government has no business type converting public land to another industrial tourism use that diminishes our ability to deal with carbon sequestration and climate change while wrecking more havoc on wildlife habitat and ecological sustainability. CSP is grossly overbuilt the way it is without this insult. An acre of native grassland processes more CO2 than the same area covered with trees. It isn’t just the destruction of native flora and it’s aesthetics that is at issue. That area is crucial for bison, elk, and all other wildlife that is diminishing in the park (except bison that are already 400 head above range carrying capacity). This administration and others previous are notorious for destroying the natural amenities that the tourism glut brings them here to see. We haven’t had responsible, natural resource steward in the governors office for over 50 years.

  14. leslie 2022-01-19 14:55

    “Carrying capacity” I am sure is a thing. NGeographic’s Seringetti/Wildebeest pinnacle species article presents nearly 2 M ungulates annually migrating w/ season, lessens fire, increases predators and over-all improves the outcome of customary CC approach, to a lay understanding.

  15. cibvet 2022-01-19 16:48

    John Tsitrian’s column of renaming noems campground toThe Karl Marx Kampground along the Lenin Loop Road seems a fitting change along with renaming the park to Genocidal State Park or maybe Annihilation State Park in honor of Custer’s supposed great battles.

  16. mike from iowa 2022-01-19 17:48

    Carrying capacity used to mean the number of animals a portion of land can sustain without losing the ability to sustain them. Animals that constantly move on in search of better feed do little to hurt their environment.

  17. Otis Larson 2022-01-20 13:05

    This is a great plan. These campground owners charge a ridiculous fee to use their outdated facilities. They need the competition so vacationers can have a choice on where to stay on their vacation. If they are worried about lost business, adjust their prices, instead of high rates and extra fees. The Black Hills as a whole is known for being overpriced. Try and find a reasonable place to stay when the beloved Sturgis Rally goes on.. Build it Kristi!!!

  18. John 2022-01-20 16:51

    Author Paul Horsted has a FB post with photos and analysis that is worth ones time.

  19. Arlo Blundt 2022-01-20 18:25

    I recently saw an article detailing Noem’s proposal for one enormous RV type camp ground (hard to call it that…parking lot is more like it) on, of all places, wildlife loop road. As wrong headed a proposal as this, at a cost of 9.9 millions, is hard to imagine. Its just an enormous bike rally dormitory for the worst kind of tourist. I’m getting into Grudznicks corner on this one…we certainly don’t need a hundred more RV’s on the wildlife loop.

Comments are closed.