The news staff at the Black Hills Pioneer selected the top stories from 2021, and the following is part one of a three-part series, published Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.


Hurri-Canine rescue

Dogs from Louisiana animal shelters rehoused in Spearfish

SPEARFISH — The Black Hills is being targeted for an influx of refugees from a Southern state, but before you go running to your phones to call the governor, we’re not talking about “political refugees,” we’re talking about animals displaced by the devastation of Hurricane Ida in Louisiana (Aug. 28).

“The hurricane hit on Saturday, and it hit so fast that nobody had time to do anything prior to it coming in, so these animals have been through the midst of everything that has happened,” said Jamie Al-Haj, a volunteer and animal advocate for the area.

Al-Haj said that she was contacted by a friend in Sioux Falls who was working with Greater Good Charities to help relocate the animals that were being housed in Louisiana shelters waiting to be adopted when the hurricane hit in order to make room for all of the pets that will be rescued and cared for in the area while they await a reunion with their families.

“The Hive” sculpture lands in Spearfish roundabout

SPEARFISH – As the work on the Jackson Boulevard improvement project comes to a close, one major finishing touch was added to the roundabout at the intersection at Jackson Boulevard and Ames Street Tuesday.

“I feel real fortunate because I always get to put the frosting on the cake,” said Dale Lamphere, a local artist, who was contracted by Black Hills State University to create “The Hive,” an art installation, which brings the motif of the university front and center to the downtown district.

“The initial call was, perhaps to do the mascot, the Yellow Jacket,” Lamphere said. “But this I think has a more universal appeal to it and certainly represents the Yellow Jackets.”

Lamphere said “The Hive” was designed to be an abstract representation of an actual yellow jacket hive, while remaining a vibrant piece of accessible art for the community at large.

Sports betting kickoff in Deadwood

Ruth, Ewing usher in with historic first wagers

DEADWOOD — NFL wasn’t the only thing that kicked off in Deadwood Thursday.

A hard-fought and long-awaited complement, legalized sports betting, was ushered in by local and state gaming officials just in time for the gridiron season, followed up by Lawrence County Commissioner and former state Sen. Bob Ewing and Deadwood Mayor David Ruth, Jr. making the first legal sportsbook bets ever in the Wild West city.

“We, here in Deadwood, couldn’t be happier and more excited about this new chapter that we’re ready to unveil in the history of Deadwood,” Ruth said. “We’re excited about what this means to our visitors. We know this will enhance the visitor experience and help lengthen the stay of people that are coming to town.”

Ruth put money down on his three favorite teams — Avalanche, Dodgers, and Pittsburgh Steelers — and weighed in on making the first wager.

Deadwood Historic Preservation misses shot at acquiring Wild Bill’s rifle

Historic heirloom sells for $475, 312

DEADWOOD — Wild Bill Hickok’s .45-70 Springfield Trapdoor rifle that was reportedly buried by his side on Aug. 3, 1876 in Deadwood recently sold for nearly half a million dollars but was not auctioned off without interest from the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission.

Historic Preservation Officer Kevin Kuchenbecker said he is not at liberty to divulge how much the city’s bidding ceiling went, but he said he was very disappointed that he wasn’t able to return the historic heirloom to Deadwood, where he feels it rightfully belongs.

“This is the rifle that was buried with Wild Bill when he was interred in the old cemetery in August of 1876. When Charlie Utter and friends moved Wild Bill to Mt. Moriah in 1879, the casket was opened and there are references of Wild Bill being in the petrified state, and the rifle was still with him. It was removed from the casket and ends up into a family in Spearfish, and, then, through the years, it ends up in the Earle collection, down in Texas,” Kuckenbecker said. “Wild Bill lay in rest, but his rifle was in private hands. It was the first time being auctioned that we are aware of, so we felt it was fitting to be back in Deadwood and be on display at one of our wonderful museums, along with the pistol we acquired in 2006, under the sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of Deadwood, and also the killing of Wild Bill is coming up in 2026, so it just felt fitting that the rifle be at home and be on display for the anniversary.”  

Kuchenbecker said the rifle’s sale price went beyond the city’s means, and historic preservation officials were unsuccessful in obtaining it.  

Meade Farm-to-School program a rousing success

STURGIS — Rhonda Ramsdell knows you can’t beat fresh, local produce.

But even Ramsdell, the Meade School District Food Service Director, was surprised at the response of students when she recently offered locally-grown cucumbers for lunch.

“I never thought I would have to ration cucumbers for school lunch,” she said.

The Meade School District is working through the Black Hills Farmers Market to develop the Farm-to-School program, Ramsdell said. In addition to cucumbers, the school district has offered fresh sweet corn and tomatoes.

Ramsdell said the less time that passes between farm and table, the fewer nutrients fresh produce can lose. Also, serving local produce is a way to get students excited about healthy eating.


Meade County Commission turn thumbs down to wind farm

STURGIS – It didn’t take Meade County commissioners long at all Tuesday to tell an out-of-state developer they didn’t want a wind farm in eastern Meade County.

Scott Debenham, president of Debenham Energy of San Diego, Calif., had asked to be included on the commission meeting agenda for its Tuesday meeting. Debenham, speaking to the commission via phone, explained that the government is beginning to open Forest Service land for alternative energy development.

He told commissioners he was seeking a letter of support from them for the development of wind and/or solar energy on land managed by the US Forest Service on the Black Hills National Forest in eastern Meade County.

Debenham said the first step in the process is to determine the viability of such a project. Debenham Energy’s job includes site evaluation, equipment selection, and recommendations on alternatives for procurement, financing, installation, operations and maintenance, and ownership of wind or solar energy projects.

Meade County Commission Chairman Ted Seaman asked Debenham point-blank if his company was looking at putting a large wind farm on a tall ridge to the west of Interstate-90 for all traveling the interstate between Sturgis and Rapid City to see.

Sturgis nets $1.1 million on 81st Rally

STURGIS — The net profit from the 81st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally returned to the city is about $1.1 million, city officials announced this week.

Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie provided the annual City of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Financial Report at Monday night’s council meeting.

Rally related income was reported to be $1,971,376. The city also saw an estimated $750,279 in sales tax revenue. From those profits, the city paid out $1,456,567 in expenses and another $152,199 in city donations to local charities such as the Sturgis Rally Charities group.

Ainslie said contributing to the uptick in profits were fees paid by temporary Rally vendors.

California-based noodle manufacturer relocating to Belle Fourche

Company plans for up to 150 employees within a year

BELLE FOURCHE –– Albany Farms, which is headquartered out of Los Angeles, Calif., has officially signed on to relocate to Belle Fourche where it intends to plant roots in the Center of the Nation, manufacturing its signature ramen noodle line of products.

Albany Farms recently purchased a facility, which formerly housed the PermianLide Tank & Manufacturing plant, and the 15 acres surrounding the location in the 79 acres of the Belle Fourche Industrial & Rail Park.

PermianLide, which called the Belle Fourche facility home since 2014, is a manufacturer of above-ground storage tanks and processing equipment for the oil and natural gas industry.

Initially, beginning back in December 2020, BF Development Corp Executive Director Hollie Stalder began working with Albany Farms and coordinating with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to persuade the company to choose Belle Fourche to house their business.

‘This is critical’

County officials ask for alternatives to 50-60% timber production reduction

DEADWOOD — Faced with a 50-60% reduction in timber production on the Black Hills National Forest, the Lawrence County Commission discussed the importance of the industry to the local economy and to the health of the forest with Black Hills National Forest District Ranger Steve Kozel Tuesday.

To provide background, the Lawrence County Commission Oct. 12 voted to support a request by Black Hills Forest Resource Association for endorsement of a request/petition to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Data Quality Official for correction of information related to a General Technical Report (GTR) published by forest service officials earlier this year that significantly reduces timber production on the Black Hills National Forest.

Sandhill cranes migrating south

Annual migration takes birds thousands of miles

SPEARFISH — Each October, a high bugling call is heard overhead in western South Dakota. An eye turned upward may have to search before it spies what makes the sound – sometimes thousands of feet above.

Sandhill cranes migrate through the area, riding rising air from the ground below, circling higher before gliding south.

“They are generally seen at high altitudes spinning in circles over the state. If you’ve ever watched them migrate, they are spinning in pinwheels, riding the thermals,” said Rocco Murano, senior waterfowl biologist for the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks.

Traveling as far north and west as parts of Siberia, in Russia, the cranes fly south to Texas and even parts of Mexico for the winter arriving at those grounds in late November or December, he said.

The cranes are rarely seen on the ground in western South Dakota in the fall as they fly hundreds of miles a day. The birds seen in the state are from the mid-continent population of sandhill cranes, one of three distinct groups of the birds.


Area schools struggle with substitute teacher shortage

SDDOE rule change for long-term subs could help

NORTHERN HILLS — Substitute teachers have always been in high demand, but for the last few years area school officials say the number of available subs has dropped significantly, and that has some superintendents concerned.

“It has been magnified now for the last year,” said Belle Fourche Superintendent Steve Willard, as he discussed the drop in sub numbers. Willard went on to explain that in past years the district, which is comprised of five different school buildings, has always been able to find substitutes to cover classes when a teacher was sick or absent due to school activities or personal leave. But this year, he said, subs are not always available.

Northern Lights dazzle Northern Hills

SPEARFISH — Night owls were treated to a fascinating light spectacle late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning as the Northern Lights danced through much of South Dakota.

Beginning Monday, a solar flare of up to three coronal mass ejections occurred causing the event, said Teresa Hofer, photographer and co-owner of the Badlands Observatory in Quinn.

“When this happens, the normal pattern of Northern Lights visibility is intensified and moves farther south. The lights themselves are caused by the ionization of atoms in the Earth’s upper atmosphere,” she said.

New test results show majority of Hideaway Hills subdivision may be unstable

BLACK HAWK — Attorneys for homeowners in the Hideaway Hills subdivision say no home in that neighborhood is safe to live in.

Kathleen R. Barrow of the Fox Rothschild likened the Hideaway Hills issue to that of the ill-fated Titanic.

Homeowners who brought the lawsuit and their neighbors “are held aboard a ship that sits, stern down and bow up in the sea. Hideaway Hills is the Titanic and it is sinking fast,” Barrow wrote in support of class-action litigation filed Tuesday in Fourth Circuit Court in Sturgis.

She also said the plaintiffs in the case, Andrew Morse, and John and Emily Clarke, and their neighbors, want and for their own safety, need, to abandon ship.

“Plaintiffs filed their Petition for Class Action because all their homes are moving, sinking, and collapsing. There are not enough lifeboats or life preservers to remedy their situation,” Barrow wrote.

Meade district staff pull together to cover lunch duty

STURGIS — It’s not every day that you find the high school principal serving up entrees to students during lunch hour.

But that’s just what happened a couple weeks ago when three Meade School District food service workers at Sturgis Brown High School were stricken with COVID-19.

“It was kind of every supervisor’s worst nightmare. You start getting phone call after phone call saying, ‘I tested positive. I’m going home,’” Meade School District Food Service Director Rhonda Ramsdell said.  “We had one already out with a surgery, so that left one head cook and a dishwasher to feed 600 kids in a couple of hours.”

Ramsdell let superintendent Don Kirkegaard know about the situation and then headed to the high school to help. Sturgis Brown High School Principal Pete Wilson told Ramsdell that he and his staff would help in any way possible.

“If we have to step up and do different things, we will. That’s how we roll out here,” Wilson said.

Governors discuss forestry in the Black Hills

SPEARFISH — Gov. Kristi Noem was joined by Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming Monday as the two visited Spearfish Forest Products Inc.

“This mill here is in jeopardy if we don’t start getting the (National) Forest Service to release more timber under contract, which means that it can be milled and it can get into the production supply chain and make sure that we protect these jobs, but not just that, it’s about maintaining healthy forests,” Noem said.


Students discuss Space Force mission with guardian

SPEARFISH — Second-graders from West Elementary School in Spearfish had the opportunity to visit with a U.S. Space Force guardian Tuesday to talk about the newest branch of the military, and of course, all things space.

Maj. Jered Sayler is one of 45 majors in the 2-year-old branch of the U.S. military. He visited with the students via Zoom from Colorado Springs, Colo.

He works at the Space Warfare Analysis Center, and as a self-proclaimed computer nerd, studies “cyber security stuff,” to make sure our satellites are safe.

He said he was among the first group of officers to transfer from the Air Force to the Space Force.

The mission of the Space Force, he said, is to protect space from attack by another country, to support warfighters on the ground, and to track every man-made object in space.

SD dino fossil fetches $7.7M in Paris auction

Paleontologist shares experience unearthing ‘Big John’ north of Newell

BELLE FOURCHE — An unnamed private buyer purchased “Big John,” a 67-million-year-old Triceratops skeleton that was uncovered in Perkins County in 2014, for $7.7 million at a Paris auction on Oct. 21.

Walter Stein, a professional dinosaur fossil hunter and vertebrate paleontologist who specializes in Late Cretaceous theropods, has discovered, excavated, or prepared more than 40 dinosaur skeletons and hundreds of isolated fossils over the last 25 years.

Stein, of Belle Fourche-based PaleoAdventures, was the lucky paleontologist who discovered Big John in 2014. He said that even after a quarter of a century honing his craft, being the first person to set eyes upon a piece of history that has been buried for more than 65 million years never gets old.

Dust from Open Cut creating issues

Everett asks Lab to voluntarily cease rock dumping, dust major environmental, health concern

LEAD — Lead Mayor Ron Everett has asked the Sanford Lab to stop dumping rock into the Open Cut, until they can solve the dust problem.

For months, the Sanford Underground Research Facility and Fermilab crews and contractors have been struggling to contain dust that has been blowing from the Open Cut in large amounts, as local residents have issued multiple complaints to lab and city officials. The dust originates from rock that crews are excavating from the underground laboratory, to make room for the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. That rock is crushed and transported along a conveyor belt to the Open Cut, where it is dumped.

Fire in apartment building forces evacuations

SPEARFISH — A midday fire in a Spearfish apartment building forced the evacuation of it and a neighboring building.

According to fire department radio traffic, the fire was reported around noon at one of the Iron Creek Plaza Apartments, believed to be 1710 Ryan Rd.

Grey smoke could be seen coming from the building as fire crews arrived.

By 12:30 p.m. the fire had been knocked down.

A report of chemicals in the building prompted the firefighters, even those on the exterior of the building, to don respirators. And then a report of a possible explosive device in the building prompted neighboring the evacuation of 1720 Ryan Rd.

Dusty’s day in Spearfish

SPEARFISH — The City of Spearfish got the full Dusty on Tuesday, as U.S. congressman Dusty Johnson made his rounds in the Queen City.

First, the self-proclaimed “newspaper junkie” was treated to a tour of the Black Hills Pioneer pressroom by publisher Letti Lister and operations manager Scott Lister.

“When fewer and fewer people work for the paper, fewer and fewer people know anybody who works for the paper. It’s less and less likely that people feel a commitment to the paper,” Johnson said

“My philosophy is to be hyper-local. That’s the thing we can provide; no one else can.” Letti Lister replied.

Johnson stressed the importance of having a local news source for every community, with a specific emphasis on local newspapers.

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