Kingsbury County trail will encourage outdoor adventure, education and tourism
A De Smet community member has a vision for a trail and boardwalk system that could also connect several counties together.
A three-phase construction plan has been developed and a local group has been formed to move the idea forward. The next challenge is coming up with the matching funds needed to secure grants for the work.
The idea started with local community member Bob Montross who wanted to bring more outdoor fun and adventure to his hometown. The Big Slough, Silver Lake and a forested plot of state-owned property on the east side of town seemed like a prime opportunity to create a trail system for De Smet visitors and residents.
"I go by that piece of property every day, and I got thinking, can't we do something a little bit better and more profitable here?" said Montross.
Wanting some guidance on how to turn his idea into a reality, Montross reached out to First Gentleman of South Dakota Bryon Noem. On board with the concept, Noem brought Kevin Robling, department secretary for South Dakota Game Fish and Parks, into the discussion.
"I invited Noem and Robling to look around the area where I wanted to put the trail. They both agreed that it was a good idea," said Montross. "Tourists traveling on Highway 14 will have a place to pull off and stretch their legs. Maybe leave some money in Kingsbury County."
Montross also contacted the National Park Service in Washington D.C. and was in touch with Barett Steenrod, a park service community planner for Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.
"These smaller, local parks and trails are as important as the big parks and trails," said Steenrod.
With the help of the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program through the National Park Service, the Kingsbury County/Hwy 14 Trail planning began.
"We provide the planning assistance on conservation, trail and park creation projects on the local level. That is to help carry out the National Park Service's mission and values beyond us and to the rest of the world," said Steenrod.
The National Park Service has been working with Montross for the past two years to map the Kingsbury County/Hwy 14 Trail project into three phases.
The first phase will build an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant path from Joliet Avenue in De Smet following Highway 14 to the Big Slough. The second phase is a boardwalk over the slough.
The third phase will encircle the De Smet Forest Game Production Area, but this final phase is still uncertain as South Dakota Game Fish and Parks has dedicated this land to hunting and trapping.
To brighten the trail in a green fashion and without creating light pollution, Fonroche Solar Lighting will place 26 to 30 solar light poles from Joliet Avenue to the beginning of the boardwalk.
"We want to bring some light to this side of town, and I was thinking of ways outside of the box to do this," said Montross.
The park service suggested EZ Dock to help build the ADA-compliant boardwalk over the Big Slough. The boardwalk is designed to sit over the slough but can float if water levels are high. There are an estimated 120 sections of dock needed to build the boardwalk.
An architecturally unique lookout tower is a potential addition to the development, Montross said. The tower will provide an opportunity for birding and wildlife observation on the Big Slough and Silver Lake while enjoying a bird's eye view of De Smet.
The trail system will provide a paved, level pedestrian and cycle trail that will encourage the community and travelers to slow their pace and enjoy the outdoors. Something that Steenrod said was important to mental health and reducing stress hormones.
"Back during Laura Ingalls' time, people traveled by horse and buggy. That was a much different speed than they travel today," said Steenrod.
But to make any of this possible, the community needs to secure the 20% in matching funds necessary to begin seeking grants. The first phase of the project is estimated to cost up to $2.06 million, but Montross is confident that the community will show support for the trail system.
"We're excited about how far this project has come. We've been working on it for a long time," said Montross.
The Kingsbury County/Hwy 14 Trail could also be larger than the three phases. It has the potential to become a trail system connecting pedestrians and bicyclists to lakes, cities and counties across eastern South Dakota.
"Big trail projects are booming in popularity, and De Smet could become a hub for this huge trail project," said Montross. "If I live long enough, I'd like to see something even a third the size of the Mickelson Trail system at Custer State Park along Highway 14. Let people slow down and see what's in Kingsbury County and the great state of South Dakota."
This article originally appeared on Watertown Public Opinion: Kingsbury County Hwy 14 Trail is planned, community support needed