Seth Tupper Journal staff
Aug 19, 2018
Despite drawing approximately 1 million visitors annually, Badlands National Park has lacked the support that some other popular national parks receive from nonprofit organizations known as “friends groups.”
A newly formed nonprofit, the Badlands National Park Conservancy, aims to change that.
The conservancy filed its South Dakota incorporation papers in May and is awaiting approval of its application for federal tax-exempt status.
Mike Pflaum, superintendent of Badlands National Park, said nonprofit friends groups have benefited other parks around the nation in myriad ways.
“I just think it’s the right way to do business,” he said. “It brings communities into the parks and brings the parks out to the community through citizen involvement at the grassroots level.”
There was at least one previous effort, which was ultimately aborted, to operate a friends group for Badlands National Park. Some of the people who supported the previous effort are active in the new group.
The conservancy’s incorporation papers list the first board members as Randy Seiler, of Fort Pierre; Susan Ricci, Kenny Putnam, Cheryl Chapman and Johnny Brockelsby, of Rapid City; Bill Schreier, of Custer; and Jackie Kusser, of Wall.
Besides supporting Badlands National Park, the conservancy also plans to support the park’s neighbor, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
At Badlands National Park, Pflaum said he hopes to work with the conservancy to develop a list of collaborative projects and programs. He said possibilities could include the creation of a youth employment program in the park, support of the park’s ongoing bison-range expansion, and perhaps someday a new visitor center.
The park also has an estimated $34 million backlog of deferred maintenance to buildings, roads, trails, picnic areas and other infrastructure. While the park hopes to receive congressional funding to reduce the backlog, Pflaum said the backlog is indicative of the many opportunities for collaborative projects with the conservancy.
Pflaum’s experience with similar nonprofit groups includes his time at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which receives support from the Mount Rushmore Society.
Elsewhere in South Dakota, nonprofit groups supporting national park sites include the Friends of Wind Cave National Park, the Black Hills Parks & Forests Association, and the Friends of the Missouri National Recreational River.