Balancing our small town charm  with steady growth - part 7 of 7

Spearfish is described as a vibrant, growing community, and its residents are encouraged to participate in the conversations about its growth and development into the future.

Pioneer photo by Kaija Swisher

SPEARFISH — Like many of Spearfish’s residents, the parties interviewed for this series are not originally “from” Spearfish. They have moved here from somewhere else, finding the small, safe, beautiful, accessible town desirable. Yet most say that if Spearfish were to cease to be a “small town,” they would not want to continue living here. So part of its very desirability is something that changes as more people move to live within its limits.

Envision Spearfish, the comprehensive plan adopted by the city council in 2013, is the guiding document that lays out the vision for how Spearfish’s future should appear.

The plan has a section that “recognizes that not all ideas contained in this document are embraced by all members of the community” even as it attempts to represent the general consensus of citizens and city leadership. It calls for public dialogue and debate to ensure that this vision is something that represents the new ideas and challenges “to ensure that Spearfish remains a community that people enjoy visiting as well as one its citizens are proud to be a part of.”

The city has a variety of advisory board positions; residents are encouraged to participate in local government; the city council has weekly open meetings to discuss items on its agenda; city staff are a phone call away; and the city administrator hosts quarterly open forum meetings.

In 2013, the city asked residents to complete a Citizen Satisfaction survey to allow the city “the ability to assess the departmental operations of the City and how they respond to the needs of its people.” A total of 410 responded to the 20-question survey regarding various services provided by the city. Almost 95 percent of respondents said that Spearfish is an “excellent” or “good” place to live, 51.7 percent of the responses said the resident involvement in decision-making was “excellent” or “good,” and 70-80 percent of the respondents had not attended a board, commission, committee, or taskforce meeting in the last 12 months. The survey results and comments are available on the city website under the city administrator tab, under reports and presentations.

No matter their profession or perspective on the topic, all the individuals interviewed for this series had similar advice for others wanting to join the conversation about Spearfish’s future.

“Seeing more people involved can help the city grow in ways that reflect the needs or desires of its citizens,” Jeremy Smith of Cycle Farm said.

City Planner Jayna Watson encouraged people to attend city council and planning commission meetings, or if they aren’t able to attend, at least get on the agenda email lists or check the agenda online to know what is on the docket. She added that people can call or write to city council members, who will listen and respond to ideas.

“And vote. Please vote!” she said.

Katie Greer, sustainability coordinator at Black Hills State University, encouraged people with ideas to share them, instead of simply commenting and not doing anything nor working to find a solution. She said that she hoped people could trust one another, even if they have differing opinions about how things should be done. Greer encouraged people to celebrate ideas and find solutions, even if they are not immediately the perfect solution — often, it takes time to work through an issue.  

“City council meetings are deeply informative about what’s going on,” Nick Caton, restaurant owner, said. “That’s where all your growth is taking place. If someone has building permit, it’s in there. If someone has a liquor license change, it’s in there. Any sort of construction development, licenses, it’s in there, so anything about your community (is discussed) at city council.”

City Councilman Doug Schmit invited people to come to meetings, call the council members, or stop them on the street.

“If you have a concern, call us, stop us, come to a meeting,” he said, explaining that the council cannot resolve a problem if they do not know about it, reiterating that communication is key.

“It’s the people here that make the community,” Schmit said. “It’s the people that keep the community going as it should be: a smooth, steady course.”

The council members’ contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses, are on the city website, and Schmit advised people to take advantage of the various modes of communication available, adding that he prefers face-to-face contact.

“I would rather sit down at a table and talk about how we can resolve an issue and resolve it,” he said. “I may not like the results, the person might not like the results, but if we can come together and find a common ground, let’s go for it.”

He also encouraged people to get involved, whether volunteering or joining an advisory board, whatever their interest may be: “Everybody’s busy, but if you want to be involved, you have to be present.”

“Get involved in groups and volunteer because that’s how you shape what is going on in Spearfish, the activities, the focus,” Spearfish Mayor Dana Boke said.

People also make changes from where they are in the community. Caton tries to do it from a “craft point of view.”

“I try to make changes from within my four walls with my two restaurants and outside of the four walls of my two restaurants with things that the community is ready for and what they want,” he said, describing how switching from a liquor bar to a craft beer bar at Killian’s Tavern has been a positive change for his business and its patrons.

Caton gave a nod to those working hard to keep Spearfish the community people want to live in.

“I see the community being led by people that don’t have any plans to leave and aren’t just doing it for a job,” he said. “People are really working hard because they love the community, and I think you see that,” adding that he sees it from a development standpoint, too, since many of the major developers in Spearfish live here and are part of the community. “All the people developing over the years, develop for the hope and passion of the community,” he said.

“We have a very fantastic … beautiful community that has the old South Dakota relationships. We aren’t an Old West town; we are an old South Dakota town that still acts like South Dakota,” Schmit said.  “I feel very good about this; the old South Dakota is still here.”

Boke voiced similar sentiments.

“Quality is very important in how we build and in the look and feel (of Spearfish),” she said. “We are a mountain town in the Hills — South Dakota’s mountain town — and we want to keep that feeling.”

This is the final installment of a seven-part series. View the entire series at

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