Animals and quiet life a part of Yak Ridge

By Jeff Smith

Julie Smoragiewicz gives a yak a treat through the fence at the area they live and rest at at Yak Ridge Cabins and Farmstead. Six yaks are on the property and there are also chickens and honeybees that create a farm-like atmosphere.

Yak Ridge Cabins and Farmstead is a place tourists can come and not have to travel very far to get to some great attractions. It is also a little different and off the beaten path.

Compared to other places in the Black Hills it is fairly new. Yak Ridge Cabins and Farmstead has only been in business for a little over two years.

The cabins are on 10 acres and her house, barn and garage are on about five and a half acres.

Julie Smoragiewicz runs the cabins and said people that come have the chance to enjoy nature and have peace.

“Even if they’re in the hustle and bustle of looking at attractions during the day they can come back here and truly unwind,” Smoragiewicz said.

There are three cabins that will fit the needs of any size of family. Each cabin features the work of local craftsmen and artisans.

The place is different in that it combines tourism and agriculture. Having an agricultural component with lodging is unique. People have the opportunity to learn about chickens, yaks and honeybees. Guests are provided fresh seasonal fruit, eggs from the chickens, South Dakota cheese and locally roasted coffee.

“People who are traveling want a taste of what is local,” Smoragiewicz said.

Smoragiewicz said in creating the place it was important to add something that shows people where food comes from. She said even people that come from Rapid City or Sioux Falls still don’t really have a sense of the kind of agriculture that goes on in their own state.

Much of the work to construct the cabins was done by the Smoragiewiczs themselves. They also hired a lot of local companies to do some of the work.

Sticking true to supporting local, much of the materials built from the cabins came from local places. And a lot of lumber, the cabinets, countertops came from places around the Black Hills.

Hartman Construction in Custer built the shelves in the cabins.

Smoragiewicz said she tries to support as many local businesses as possible. According to Smoragiewicz, providing information about local food or other products helps visitors have a better experience. It also helps the state and area economically.

This past year there were 171 different groups that rented out the cabins. This amounts to about 550 people.

The average stay is about 3.7 days. Smoragiewicz said they have seen a lot of families and it has also become a place where multiple generations come together. For the most part, the people that come appreciate being in nature.

It’s definitely for people who want something different from a standard hotel room.

People can see yaks and chickens roam nor far from where they sleep. There are aspen trees, dirt roads and farm equipment. It’s almost like being back on a family farm.

Until people step into one of the spacious cabins. There is a lot of character and a rustic feeling in the cabins even though they look modern and new. A calming feeling is expressed in every detail of the cabins, from the color of the walls to the blankets on the bed.

The plan is to build another cabin sometime in the next three years. There is plenty of room to roam and each cabin is far enough apart to feel removed from the rest of the property.

Julie and her husband Jim were looking for something different when they came up with the idea for Yak Ridge.

“We wanted something we could do ourselves and something that would be more out in nature,” Smoragiewicz said.

They previously owned and operated a restaurant in Rapid City.

Ten beehives are also on the property. Two hundred lbs. of honey were produced this past summer.

Smoragiewicz uses if for baking and cooking.

“It’s a less processed sweetener,” Smoragiewicz said.

There are six yaks in a fenced in area on the property. One of them, Arlo, is a newborn. Smoragiewicz said yaks frolic around and are a good source of entertainment for guests too.

The goal for the Smoragiewiczs is to become more sustainable. Smoragiewicz wants to be able to grow more food around the Yak Ridge property. They have started an orchard with apples and pears. They have also grown grapes, blackberries and rasberries. There is a greenhouse and Smoragiewicz wants to do more with that too. They have  also planted linden trees, which are bee friendly.

“We want to try to do things that utilize renewable energy,” Smoragiewicz said.

For example, they use passive solar energy where they can. Right now the outdoor lights on the cabins are solar-powered. Ultimately, Smoragiewicz wants to be a good steward of the land.

“We feel pretty lucky to be in this great spot. We have a responsibility to take care of it for future generations,” Smoragiewicz said.