Rainy weather hasn’t hurt much

By Jeff Smith

Stacey Phillips, owner of Rabbit Bicycles in Hill City, said sales have increased this year as it is the second year the store has been opened. Rabbit Bicycles likes to get people out to ride and enjoy all of the different scenery.

The rain has been good at keeping South Dakota relatively unharmed by wildfires this past summer. A lot of rain over the past eight to 10 weeks has moistened up the fuels to keep fires from happening. 

It seems like rain or clouds in the sky can be pretty devastating to those in the tourism industry. A sunny day means packed streets and a lot of people strolling Main Street. A rainy day means that people will just move on or stay inside.

Stacey Phillips, owner of Rabbit Bicycles in Hill City, said the weather has been a little more of challenge this year, especially with the hailstorms that have came through. 

“The customers have been pretty flexible,” Phillips said. 

They will change their plans to a day when the weather is more suitable. Some customers have been caught in the rain and then they need to be picked up. 

Phillips thinks that last year the weather affected her business more because it was cooler. 

This is Rabbit Bicycles second season here and they are branching out more. There is a loft rental upstairs, a wine and bike tour takes place and there is always a lot of items available in the store. 

Bikes are able to be purchased there after the season is done. Rabbit Bicycles has purchased e-bikes, which have been a popular item to rent. 

“Next year I’ll get some more on site,” Phillips said. 

One e-bike is around $3,000.

Phillips said sales have definitely increased this year. 

In a week, between Rabbit Bicycles and Deadwheels 300-400 people take a shuttle ride. The shuttle bus service has expanded this summer and they are doing it not just for those who want to go trailheads. 

“We do trips to Mount  Rushmore and family reunions in the area,” Phillips said. 

Shuttling is available during the winter. The employees can take people to wine tours or go to the Rush hockey games. 

“We’re going to try to be creative to get that going,” Phillips said. 

The bus that was purchased can easily be turned into a party bus too. It will be nice because people will be able to go out on the town, be taken care of and then return home safe after the night is over. 

Jordan Burnett said the season has been pretty hectic but fun too. He manages the shop at Rabbit Bicycles. 

He started in April working at the shop. He and the the other employee, John Rogers, are in the shop most of the time.

Burnett said the busiest times of the day are morning to noon. Most of the repairs needed on the trail are wheel-related. 

This year there will be an El Niño winter, which means a warmer winter with less snowfall. Plus, the fall season is beautiful in the Black Hills. 

Phillips said she is looking forward to fall. 

“It’s a busy time for us because of the fall foliage and all of that,” Phillps said. 

Public information officer at Mount Rushmore, Maureen McGee-Ballinger, said the tourism season at Mount Rushmore has been great even though the visitation has been down a bit from last year. As of July the national park was down about five percent. 

“It’s been fairly busy. I expect that minus number to decrease,” McGee-Ballinger said. “August has been beautiful.”

The rainy weather has most likely dropped visitation down a bit. Plus, when there is fog in sky people call and ask if they can see the president’s faces. 

“The fog can be very unpredictable,”  McGee-Ballinger said.

Renovations have been taking place at the Sculptor’s Studio. The renovations planned for the visitor center and avenue of flags have not begun. McGee-Ballinger said they don’t anticipate those beginning to take place until late fall or early winter. 

The Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup will be the last big event for the season that will affect Mount Rushmore’s visitation numbers. 

McGee-Ballinger said that bus tours seem to pick up too when students go back to school.

According to the South Dakota Department of Tourism data park visits across the state were down around seven percent from January to June. The state parks will most likely see more of a positive trend since July and August has seen some changes in the weather.

Marla Davis, office manager for Forest Recreation Management, Inc., said the season has been great as there were no major problems. It might not be like it was last year but Pactola Lake and Sheridan Lake Campgrounds have been full just about every weekend. 

The rain definitely affects the day use pass numbers. Davis said there have been lots of weekends where day use areas don’t get used that much. Fortunately, there hasn’t been a fire ban because then the camping numbers go way down. 

Like a lot of other businesses there was a lot more mowing done this summer. Forest Recreation Management mows all of their properties every other week. 

“It’s been hard to keep up with because of all the rain,” Davis said.