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GF&P seeks Canyon land

By Bill Harlan, Journal Staff Writer

SPEARFISH CANYON -- Homestake Mining Company has agreed to sell three parcels of land in scenic Spearfish Canyon to the state of South Dakota - including Roughlock Falls, one of only a few waterfalls in the state.

The proposed purchase price for the 356 acres is $2.7 million.

As part of the deal, the state Game, Fish & Parks Department would also set up a permanent, interest-bearing fund of $600,000 to pay for restoration and upkeep on the properties.

Homestake and its parent company, Barrick Gold Corp. of Toronto, have agreed to those terms, but GF&P Secretary John Cooper warned that if the state doesn't act, some of the most spectacular scenery in the Black Hills could end up in private hands. "Without public acquisition of these lands, it appears inevitable, that Barrick will sell these lands to developers that seek to build trophy homes," Cooper wrote in a letter accompanying his proposal. He argued that even Roughlock Falls could become privately owned, "thus locking out a public treasure."

More than 300,000 people visit Spearfish Canyon each year, and the federal government has designated the 22-mile highway in the canyon a Scenic Byway.

The Homestake parcels for sale are:

n 38.5 acres along Little Spearfish Creek, including Roughlock Falls.

n 17.6 acres at the Savoy Intake, a small dam and pond on Spearfish Creek upstream from Savoy.

n 300 acres at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon.

Money for the $3.3 million deal would not come from taxpayers, Cooper said. In fact, most of it would come from Homestake. Cooper hopes to use about $3.1 million that the state already has been awarded as compensation for cyanide and other hazardous substances Homestake dumped into Whitewood Creek for decades. The creek was named a Superfund site in 1981, but Homestake completed restoration in 1994, and the creek was taken off the Superfund list in 1996.

In 1997, however, South Dakota and Indian tribes sued Homestake. The settlement established the Whitewood Creek Restoration Fund. The state's share of the complicated settlement was about $2.7 million, which has grown with interest to about $3.1 million.

Cooper hopes to use that money to buy the Homestake land.

The nonprofit Spearfish Canyon Foundation will donate an additional $250,000 to the project, Cooper said, bringing the total to about $3.35 million. The extra money - about $50,000 - could go to the GF&P's Parks and Wildlife Foundation, possibly for more land purchases from Homestake.

John Kirk, chief of environmental review and management for the GF&P, said the 356 acres for sale are used to restore and protect wildlife habitat, but people will have access, too. "Homestake made these areas available to the public, and we're going to make them available free of charge, too," Kirk said.

Cooper, Kirk and other state officials will attend a public meeting in Spearfish on Thursday to explain the deal and answer questions.

The centerpiece of the land sale is scenic Roughlock Falls west of Savoy, which for decades has been a popular picnic spot maintained by the Homestake Mining Co.

In recent years, a trail from the top of the falls to the bottom has been closed to prevent erosion. The state will keep the picnic area open, Kirk said, and trails and viewing platforms will protect the sensitive riparian environment.

The GF&P already has done some renovation to the small pond on Little Spearfish Creek, downstream from Roughlock Falls, and Kirk said similar projects are planned for the Savoy Intake, a popular fishing spot readily accessible from the highway.

GF&P and Homestake have been negotiating the Spearfish Canyon deal for several years, since Homestake closed its underground gold mine in Lead.

The sale does not, however, include Spearfish Falls at Savoy or Homestake's Hydroelectric Plant No. 2, which is about halfway between Savoy and the northern rim of the canyon. Kirk said the GF&P likely will manage those areas under an agreement with Homestake and that a sale could be negotiated as part of a "phase 2." The money put into the Parks and Wildlife Foundation could be used for another purchase, Kirk said.

Kirk also said that in a separate transaction, the city of Spearfish would negotiate the purchase of a small parcel of Homestake land at the mouth of the canyon known locally as the Rifle Range.

Contact Harlan at 394-8424 or at [email protected]

If you go

The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department will discuss at an open house Thursday in Spearfish its recent proposal to buy Homestake Mining Co. land in Spearfish Canyon.

State officials hope to use the Whitewood Creek Settlement Fund to buy land. The settlement requires a public open house.

The meeting will be 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Spearfish City Hall at 625 5th St.

For information about the proposal, go to
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