Agency Spotlight: Rapid City Parks and Recreation, South Dakota

February 1, 2015, Department, by Danielle Taylor

Legacy Commons Playground offers Rapid City families an exciting new place to play as part of the recent Memorial Park Promenade project.Essential Information

32 named parks, three natural open-space areas for hiking and mountain biking, two community centers, two golf courses, five off-leash areas, one dirt-jump park, one Strider nature trail, six sand volleyball courts, two disc golf courses, two 12-court tennis complexes, four neighborhood tennis courts, 14 picnic shelters, two skateboard parks, a 10-mile greenway with bike path running east and west throughout the city, 10 fishing sites, two horseshoe courts, one bandshell, 17 playgrounds, one historic Dinosaur Park, seven formal gardens, one butterfly garden, one indoor swim center, three outdoor pools, one indoor ice arena, one outdoor skating rink, one BMX track, eight outdoor racquetball courts, two indoor racquetball courts, two municipal cemeteries.

Building on History

Located in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota, Rapid City may be more widely known as a jumping-off point to attractions like Mount Rushmore National Monument, Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial and other area tourism destinations, but it deserves recognition in its own right as well. In response to a growing local population as well as a constant influx of tourists, the city incorporated its Parks and Recreation Department in 2004, and in the 11 years since, it has burgeoned to provide an ever-increasing array of parks and recreation options for locals and visitors alike.

However, the city’s park and recreation roots extend far beyond the agency’s founding. A favorite local treasure is Dinosaur Park, originally constructed in 1936 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the park “features seven green concrete dinosaurs, the largest being a 30-foot tall by 80-foot long apatosaurus (think brontosaurus) that sits high above Rapid City,” shares Landscape Architect Alex DeSmidt. “It is a great place for families traveling to the Black Hills to stop, grab a bite to eat, pick up a souvenir at the Dinosaur Park gift shop and stretch their legs. Climbing the stone staircase to the top of the hill to ‘pet’ a dinosaur, touching and even riding the dinosaurs is allowed.”

In another nod to the past, the city is working on another major venture with similar historical beginnings. WPA crews also created Skyline Drive in the 1930s as a scenic byway to attract tourists to Rapid City and Mount Rushmore, which was then under construction. Today, the city and local partners are working together to enhance Skyline Wilderness Park, “a major park development project that will provide access to nearly 200 acres of city-owned wilderness in the heart of Rapid City,” says DeSmidt. Using land acquired by the Skyline Drive Preservation Group and donated to the city, the park will ultimately provide a network of easily accessible hiking and biking trails as well as a scenic overlook for park visitors to enjoy.

A Biker’s Paradise

Luckily, bikers won’t have to wait until Skyline Wilderness Park improvements wrap up next year to engage in their sport. Rapid City already offers tons of road- and trail-biking opportunities in and around its borders, and it’s not by accident. “Rapid City has invested in the planning and development of bicycle-related facilities to provide transportation and recreation opportunities to support a more active and healthier community,” says DeSmidt. “Through the adoption of a citywide bicycle/pedestrian plan in 2011, we have been able to focus efforts on completing the major goals of the plan in strategic order with the vision of becoming a Bike-Friendly Community.” Last summer, Rapid City took a major step forward toward this goal with the introduction of B-Cycle, a bikeshare program with two stations in town.

Recognizing that a fun childhood introduction to recreation can lead to a lifelong passion for exercise and wellness, Rapid City Parks and Recreation has partnered with locally headquartered Strider Sports International to open up biking opportunities for the youngest members of their community.

“Since [Strider’s] beginning in 2007, we have worked with them at various events promoting their no-pedal bike as a tool to learn life skills including balance, coordination and spatial awareness to the children at a young age,” says Kristy Lintz, CPRP, special events coordinator for Rapid City Parks and Recreation. “Now our department offers the Strider Camp curriculum that they produced. We have taken the program a step further by incorporating it within our Special Olympic Young Athletes program as well as introducing it to older adults at assisted living facilities.”

In 2014, Strider approached the department with the idea of creating a nature trail specifically designed for their no-pedal bike to introduce young riders to off-road riding. Using a section of underutilized park land, “Strider designed and developed an 800-foot-trail that weaves between trees, over stumps and incorporated other natural landscaping that young strider riders can maneuver,” Lintz says. “This public-private partnership has allowed us to achieve all three NRPA Pillars.” The agency also attracted NRPA attention for its biking initiatives in 2009 when it won the association’s Commercial, Recreation and Tourism Special Event Award for the Black Hills Fat Tire Festival. While recognizing that there is more work to be done to make Rapid City a safer and more attractive community for riders, last year’s honorable mention for bike friendliness by the League of American Bicyclists shows that the city is moving in the right direction.

Recent noteworthy developments also include a public-private partnership community playground build at Willow Park and the Memorial Park Promenade project, both of which were dedicated last fall. In summer 2016, the department expects to open an outdoor waterpark facility currently under construction.

Beyond just facilities, the agency also offers a wide range of recreation clubs, providing community members with everything from hiking to curling, dancing, martial arts and more. Click here for more information.

Danielle Taylor is the Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.