Wildlife Loop Road work begins

Jason Ferguson

If you plan to take a drive down Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park in the next couple of months, prepare to be patient.
On July 12 work began on an overlay of the entire 18 miles of the road, a project park visitor services program manager Kobee Stalder said is five years in the making, the last three of which have consisted of planning and securing funds for the $2.8 million project.
“The last three years we started to have more serious conversations about it, got it planned and got it put in the budget for the future,” Stalder said. “This year we were able to secure the funding for it and get it done.”
Barring weather delays, the project should be completely finished by the end of September. It will be the first time the road has been repaved since it was originally paved in 1984. Stalder said the repairs are much-needed, as the road is beginning to break up in some spots and slough off on some of the road edges in other spots.
The road will remain fully open through Aug 5, as work begins on digging out ditches and bringing the road to where it needs to be to be repaved. There will be one-way traffic in some areas while this work is done, however, and delays can be expected.
Work will cease on the project during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and resume Aug. 16. At that point the paving will take place in two phases. Each phase will see nine miles of road paved, with the portion being paved to be closed to traffic. The remaining nine miles will remain open, as will interior roads such as Fisherman Flats, North Lame Johnny, etc.
Stalder said the partial road closure will allow the work to be done more quickly.
“It’s going to make travel a little slower down there, but we are still going to make sure you can see the wildlife you came to see,” he said. “We understand people come here to see the wildlife, and it’s a priority to make sure people still get to while construction happens.”
Stalder said the construction might also provide people the chance to try a different route and see parts of the park they may not have seen before.
Stalder said he knows the work and closures will be an inconvenience for people, but in the end the project, which is being done by Simon Contractors out of Rapid City, will make travel on the loop better and enhance the park.
“In the summertime in South Dakota we have a limited window when we can get construction projects done,” he said. “If we could do it in December, we would.”

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