Gov. Dennis Daugaard has a new appreciation for strong public opposition to his proposal to exchange low value state lands for 2,000 prime acres of the Black Hills National Forest, as additions of developed state parks. But this land grab is not over, only the tactics have changed. Take Camp Bob Marshall on the Bismarck Lake parcel as an example.
When this issue became controversial, Gov. Daugaard and other state officials began to systematically cripple the camp’s ability to provide a good experience for an already full slate of over 1,200 campers this summer.
How? The bylaws for the nonprofit board, which holds the Forest Service permit for the camp, state that it will be made up of five state extension agents and six volunteer board members. Citing a sudden new conflict of interest, the Director of State Extension notified the current extension agents on the board: “either resign from your position on this board or resign from your paid position as an extension agent.” The Western SD 4-H Camping Association suddenly found itself with half a board and no quorum to conduct business.
Next, Donna Bittaker, state 4-H program director attended the January board meeting. She told the remaining board members that because of newly “discovered” liability concerns, they could no longer use 4-H in their name or be connected with 4-H in any way. The stunned remaining board members now had to apply for new 501(c)3 nonprofit status with the IRS. To make matters worse, she stated that because any funds in their account were generated under the name of 4-H, they had to be turned over to the office in Brookings.
The money in their account had been set aside to start up the camp this summer. At that meeting, seeing how the state was playing hard ball politics with the camp, the long term camp manager resigned. The camp cook also resigned. Last month, the remaining volunteer board members found themselves without nonprofit status as required by the permit, no operating funds, and no camp manager or cook. The first campers start arriving May 15, with 100 kids per week all summer looking forward to camp.
Ironically, while these efforts were quietly crippling the camp’s operation this summer, Custer State Park Supt. Matt Snyder and others presented their glossy presentation at the Feb. 6 Custer City Council meeting. They painted a rosy picture of how nothing would change at Bismarck Lake and they would continue to operate Camp Bob Marshall as an affordable youth camp if Custer would just support the land exchange.
If the camp does not operate, or has a poor season this summer, it will generate another weak excuse to justify this land grab. Last month a State Game, Fish and Parks Commissioner stated that opposition to Bismarck Lake was “softening” and that this part of the land exchange should now be accelerated. Game, Fish and Parks has planned its first public meeting for Custer in May. Hopefully, Black Hills residents will show up and prove him wrong.
Why do the governor and Game, Fish and Parks keep pushing this flawed land swap that attempts to circumvent existing state and federal land exchange laws? The lure of commercial development and the money that could be made from this beautiful land cannot be denied.
One only has to look at some of the existing developed facilities in Custer State Park to see what could happen. This is why it needs to remain public land, protected for all Americans for today and future generations. Under Forest Service permit, Camp Bob Marshall has served youth and others as an affordable summer camp for almost 80 years. I hope this is not the last year.
So, what needs to happen? Can the threat of losing an affordable youth camp galvanize more of us to open our checkbooks to donate and clear our calendars to volunteer? If you agree that we need to find more ways to connect youth to nature and disconnect them from their phones and computers, then I am asking you to rally around Camp Bob Marshall this summer. Leo Orme is the president of this board, the website is campbob.org and the phone number is 673-2730…. if anybody is there.
Guest writer Lynn Kolund is a retired U.S. Forest Service Hell Canyon District Ranger who lives in Custer.