Visitation increase not huge but keeps businesses busy

By Jeff Smith

seeing the great shrine of democracy. This summer there was a 1.1 percent increase in the number of tourists to visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Even though the Black Hills and Badlands Tourism Association says that visitation to the Black Hills was up slightly this past summer it felt busier for many people.

The actual percentage increase was 0.26. 

Janet Wetovick-Bily, executive director of the Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce,  said from observation and comments, it felt like and appeared Hill City had more visitors than years past.

At the Visitor Information Center  in Hill City (VIC), they saw 12, 591 walk-in visitors. Combined with phone inquiries and requests for information or visitor guides, by either phone or online, the visitor engagement is at 15,161 as of Oct. 30.

Wetovick-Bily said the chamber’s goal is to drive visitor traffic to Hill City. As more people come here, Wetovick-Bily said, the chamber wants visitors to have the kind of experience in Hill City that lingers in the minds and hearts of guests long after they are gone.

Wetovick-Bily said she hopes the visitors have an experience of great memories, great adventure and one of having found the unexpected.

According to Wetovick-Bily, most of the visitors hailed from Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa. 

“In visiting with guests we find some are here because of reports and word-of-mouth referrals by previous family and friends who have visited,” Wetovick-Bily said.

Staff reports at the VIC and sign-ins confirm the efforts that have been done to target people from certain locations by chamber of commerce results from Black Hills and Badlands Tourism Association and marketing agency Lawrence & Schiller. The primary target markets were Omaha, Des Moines, and quad cities; secondary markets were Minneapolis, Denver, Madison and Rapid City.

The VIC always sees a lot of first time visitors, but there are also some repeat visitors who return with family or friends with them. 

One market that the chamber of commerce hopes to engage and continue to boost is the mid-day tour bus stops.  There were also a lot of inquiries for campgrounds this year.

Wetovick-Bily also said that people have told the VIC that they have always wanted to come to the Black Hills or this is one of the places on their bucket list.

This year the VIC has seen an increase in visitors from Canada and also from Australia.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial saw an increase of 1.1 percent for visitors this year. Through September they saw  around 3,000,003,400 visitors. Last year they saw around 3, 000,000,844 visitors.

Blaine Kortemeyer, assistant chief of interpretation and education, said more people are traveling and finding it economical.

“People have a great time. With a little amount of money they can take it all in,” Kortemeyer said.

He mentioned there are a lot of great attractions a short distance from one another too.

Kortemeyer said the Department of Tourism has bolstered advertising of the Black Hills.

It is working in areas like Denver, Chicago and Milwaukee.

He said the amount of people they will see for the rest of the year depends on the weather.

“It’s bus season now. We get bus tours and people traveling for the holidays and into the rest of fall,” Kortemeyer said.

This was the first summer after the parking fee decreased from $11 to $10. This is due to Mount Rushmore National Memorial changing contractors.

Kortemeyer said it’s important for more of a mental factor as people would rather use a $10 bill rather than break a $20 bill. The parking pass is also good for an entire year from the date of purchase.

Brian Kornely, general manager at Rabbit Bicycles in Hill City, said the summer went really well and they are feeling pretty excited after having opened for their first year.

“We met people from all over the country and the world,” Kornely said.

Rabbit Bicycles is still seeing some business but last month they saw dwindling numbers.

On a good day, half of their bikes were rented. This is about 40 bikes. Kornely said the shuttle service saw the most amount of business.

“This is for riders wanting to shuttle to the more popular sites of the Mickelson Trail,” Kornely said.

There were times where they had calls all day about the shuttle service. Another driver and vehicles were added in the latter part of the summer since it was such as popular service.

“It was the fun part of the job. When you shuttle, you are out there with them for an hour. You hear stories and how they are doing in their part of the country,” Kornely said.

He said there was a lot of appreciation for the Black Hills.

“Some would travel days just to get on the trail,” Kornely said.

In addition to what they are doing, Kornely said they want to get tours going. One of the plans for Rabbit Bicycles is to talk to local motels and lodging sites to have packages available. So when people come to the Black Hills to bike they can have their meals and lodging taken care of.

Their plan for the rest of the year is to take calls and accommodate people if they want to ride.

Wendy Bobbe, manager of Candyland in Hill City, said it was a good and busy season. The store opened in April and even though she is happy with this year she said there could be a lot more business next year.

“We’re hoping to double the products, double the amount of people and the income. We’re hoping people come see what we’ve added,” Bobbe said.

Throughout the summer they did some rearranging and added a kitchen to make new candy. With the kitchen they plan to have fudge, caramel apples, dipped fruit and even gourmet pet treats.

Candyland will be open on the weekends until next spring when it will return to summer hours. Bobbe said they have some fun stuff coming up for Christmas.

Another new business that moved into the Hill City Mercantile building mid-way through the summer has reported excellent sales in foot traffic. The owner, Justin Stephens, recently changed the name to “The Mountain Store” from Hill City Mercantile and Spearfish Fly Shop.

“The new name helps explain who we are: all things mountain,” Stephens said.

The top items they have been selling is outdoor apparel and locally made jewelry. Stephens said they will continue to find exciting and interesting new products to add to the store’s mix. Lots of customers have been asking for footwear, and that is about to arrive. They recently added snowshoes for adults and children and they have already been a huge hit.

The store plans to be open Thursday – Saturday during the winter. They will go back to being open seven days a week next April.