The secret is out on this place we call home

By Carol Walker

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We thought we would go back home to Minnesota someday, if not for a job, at least when we retired, but somehow, South Dakota grabbed our hearts over these past 41 years. Myriad collected experiences, real people, awesome climate, the simple beauty of the Black Hills and of course the absence of mosquitoes helped to foster the notion that this is home.

We very soon discovered what locals and other transplants realize: this area is one of America’s best kept secrets, full of hidden surprises, just around the next bend. In light of that, it made me sad to read that the location of Devil’s Bathtub has been broadcasted all over social media and is becoming a tourist attraction, complete with congested parking areas and crowded paths. That was one of the first places our friends in Deadwood took us to see when we lived in Lead many years ago. We led some family members there once, but we certainly didn’t pass on the experience to everyone we knew.

I suppose I could complain about the “next generation,” the addiction to social media, the need they seem to feel to communicate to a worldwide audience their every activity, including what they eat and drink. However, the “twitter-pation” with social media transcends generations, as we can clearly see from an office deep in Washington, D.C., but that is beside the point.

Devil’s Bathtub, Poet’s Table and Hippie Hollow are out in the open and now officials must decide what to do. I suppose three alternatives are to let it be and see the environment surrounding the sites become degraded, block off the areas, which probably is not possible, or develop infrastructure – build parking lots and safe trails and railings and viewing spots and signage and on and on. It sounds so commercial and expensive, and it will definitely take away from the mystique of the hidden treasures, but unveilings like this happen all the time.

I remember when my children and I, along with a few other people – maybe up to 200 or so — stood beside the fence and watched the buffalo roundup, a spectacular sight indeed. Could it be kept a secret? Not forever. And now thousands come to the park each fall and enjoy a spectacle that cannot be found many places in the world. It has required as many people to manage the crowds, cars, RVs and buses as it does to actually herd the buffalo.  The explosion of its popularity began with economic development and now involves dinner under the tent, shuttle buses, vendors selling buffalo-related items and media, plenty of media. But why not share the experience and allow people to know one of the many things that makes South Dakota great?

Then there is Hill City, referred by some to be South Dakota’s best kept secret. Yes, left turns are challenging in the summer, grocery lines are longer, Main St. is crowded, but don’t we want others to appreciate what we have here? Don’t we want our economy to keep on humming and our friends and neighbors to succeed in business?

Though feeling sad after reading about the exposed secret spots in the Black Hills, I soon gained a little perspective on life when I saw other articles about the battle against opioid addiction, the conjoined twins in California who endured an 18- hour surgery to be separated and the fight for life for tiny Charlie Gard.  Those monumental events make the exposure of some of our favorite places pretty insignificant.

So as we share the Black Hills and its unique spots with the rest of the world, and soon as the motorcycles come to town, we can be sad and mad at the people that crowd our roads, walkways and forest or keep it all in perspective and celebrate the place we call home.

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