Thousands gather for Roundup

Gray Hughes

The 55th annual Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park held Sept. 25 can easily be listed as a successful event.

Those gathered in the buffalo corrals at the park saw a herd of 1,450 bison herded into corrals to be vaccinated and have their general health checked.

“This is always a special day for South Dakota, and we love welcoming visitors to really see our way of life,” said S.D. Gov. Kristi Noem at a press conference at the event. “We take great pride in our bison herd and we are just so thankful that you all got in your cars, airplanes, came here and enjoyed this very special day with us.”

While no official numbers were available the day of the event, Kobee Stalder, visitor services program manager at Custer State Park, said in the north viewing area alone roughly 1,000 more vehicles were parked this year compared to last year.

Overall, he believes there was an increase from previous years.

In Stalder’s opinion, the Roundup was a resounding success. All of the horseback riders and bison came into the corral safely and, at the end of the day, that’s what the ultimate goal is, he said.

It’s great that the park puts on a show for visitors,  Stalder added, but at the end of the day safety is the biggest factor.

“Everyone came in and there were no injuries and all the animals got in safely,” he said. “In our minds, it went great.”

The Roundup was scheduled to pass by the viewing areas at 9:30 a.m., but because bison are wild animals with no concept of time, they didn’t get to the viewing areas until closer to 10 a.m.

The bison were in the Hay Flats area of the park, Stalder said, but they were in the far back corner of it. It was a longer pre-push to get them into the viewing area where people could actually see them, he added.

“So that actually took a lot longer to get the herd into sight, longer than usual,” Stalder said. “For the last couple of years, they have not been as far back in that area of the park, so that’s why it took a little longer than normal. But once they got there, things went pretty smoothly.”

Once the bison got into the viewing area, the crowd was treated to a real sight. Cowboys and cowgirls worked the herd on horseback to get them into the corrals. Gov. Noem was one of 60 people on horseback working to get the bison into the corrals.

Having Gov. Noem work the herd was “excellent,” Stalder said, and really embodies what South Dakota is all about.

“We have a governor who embraces the Old West and ranch lifestyle,” he added. “To be able to come out and enjoy the event with her and have her out there helping push the bison, I think, that’s great. She’s the leader of our state and to have her show the way is excellent when it comes to an event like this.”

At the corrals, Gov. Noem worked the crowds. There was nearly a constant circle around her with people hoping to get a picture with the governor.

Gov. Noem also spoke at a press conference regarding the building and a gift of $4 million to a new bison visitor center (see related story in this edition of the Chronicle).

Gwen Larsen, who was eating lunch on one of the picnic tables with her family, said she thought the Roundup was great.

“I thought it was fun,” she said. “I love being able to spend the day enjoying Custer State Park and some buffalo.”

The crowd at the corrals was thick, as people were able to enjoy a barbecued buffalo brisket lunch and watch the herd get worked on.

At the corals, Kari Odenbirch was standing by the pens with friends. This was her first Roundup and she said she really enjoyed the experience.

“I’m in awe,” she said.

Stalder said the herd size of 1,450 — which included 475 calves — is the largest herd in about 10 years. He described this as “incredible,” as it was the most calves the park has had in a long time.

Having that many bison helps ensure the health of bison across the United States, as the park hopes to auction 400 this year to private herds.

“That’s what we really do it for, is to make sure the bison still has a bigger footprint on the North American landscape. The story of the bison is really sad when you think of it,” Stalder said. “It almost became extinct and then to be able to help bring that animal back is really why we do what we do.”

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