Even though Mother Nature has given the Black Hills of South Dakota the cold shoulder this spring with wind, rain and frigid air, the number of campers and visitors so far is up over last year at destinations such as Custer State Park, Hart Ranch Camping Resort and attractions like Crazy Horse Memorial, the Rapid City Journal reported.
Tourism operators say all signs point to a strong high season for business.
While campgrounds and tourist attractions see the heaviest traffic between Memorial Day and Labor Day, they also pay close attention to their numbers during what are referred to as the “shoulder seasons,” which come in early spring and late fall.
“It all adds to the bottom line,” said Nort Johnson, vice president of marketing at Crazy Horse Memorial and a former employee at Black Hills Badlands and Lakes, a tourism marketing group.
Johnson said spring bus tours with Americans and international tourists to the memorial’s education programs have led to a strong spring. Judging by Facebook and web traffic so far, the main tourism season should be robust, he said.
“The indicators right now show that we have every reason to be optimistic,” he said.
The first campground opened March 15 at Custer State Park and it has been busy there ever since, according to Craig Pugsley, visitors service coordinator.
“We have had campers in that campground every night since we opened it. Our numbers are twice as many as last year,” said Pugsley, who added that 445 units have been rented compared to 210 at this point last year at the campground near the main lodge.
Tim Schnabel, resort manager at Hart Ranch south of Rapid City, said campground rentals are up 18 percent since Jan. 1 compared to last year. “It’s been a fantastic shoulder season,” he said.
While the weather has often been wet and cool this spring, Schnabel said even that is better than last year when an April blizzard buried the Black Hills.
“Last year, we were still shoveling snow during the first weekend in May,” he said. “So even though it is still cold and windy, it’s been better than last year.”
Hart Ranch has more than 500 rental units, said Schnabel, who has been manager there for three years.
For the full story, click here.