In this April 17, 2012 photo, Blood Run, a historic site along the Big Sioux River used by thousands of Oneota Indians into the early 1700s, is shown near Sioux Falls. Gov. Dennis Daugaard will be introducing a bill to designate the 600-acre nature area as South Dakota’s 13th state park. AP FILE PHOTO/DIRK LAMMERS
SIOUX FALLS — After years of private fundraising and piecing together property parcels that for centuries were home to thousands of Native Americans, South Dakota officials are ready to make the picturesque acreage along the Big Sioux River a state destination.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard in his State of the State speech last week said that he’s introducing a bill to designate the 600-acre Blood Run nature area as South Dakota’s 13th state park.
And the governor is asking for $2 million in general funds to make the first phase of improvements and build a visitor’s center within two years, said Doug Hofer, parks and recreation director for the state Game, Fish and Parks Department.
Officials this past summer opened the property 11 miles southeast of Sioux Falls for self-guided hikes and appointment-only tours led by a veteran interpreter-historian.
Hofer said the response has been overwhelming. He counted 20 cars on the site when he visited with his grandchildren during a Sunday afternoon in mid-October.
“The interest is there,” Hofer said. “Once we’re able to move forward with providing more interpretation, more information about the history of the area, improve the hiking trails and ultimately build a visitors’ center there, I think it’s going to become extremely popular.”
The acreage along the Big Sioux River bordering Iowa was used by thousands of Oneota Indians into the early 1700s, and its diverse landscape boasts a large oak forest, rolling hills, flood plains and riverside bluffs. The site has a story to tell, holding historically rich burial mounds, refuse pits and artifacts.
“Long before white settlers came to what is now South Dakota, a number of Native American tribes gathered along a winding, wooded creek to trade, bury loved ones and establish bonds of peace and friendship,” Daugaard said in his address last week. “Rolling hills, broad floodplains, rock-covered burial mounds and steep riverside bluffs mark the area, one of the oldest sites of long-term habitation in America.”
The $2 million in state funds will be matched with $2 million in private donations being raised by the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation. The department is also shifting $1 million from its budget to the project.
Foundation fundraiser Dick Brown said the effort commitment will help turn Blood Run into a destination location for eastern South Dakota on par with what Custer State Park does for the Black Hills.
“It really will become the premier state park of the east, similar to what Custer is out here,” Brown said.
Blood Run, which was designated a national historic landmark in 1970, will be the first new property to become a South Dakota state park in more than 50 years. South Dakota added Bear Butte State Park in 1961, and legislators re-designated Palisades Recreation Area as Palisades State Park in 1973.
South Dakota began its quest to preserve the land in 1995 when it partnered with Forward Sioux Falls and the city’s chamber of commerce to acquire 200 acres on what will be the southern end of the state park.
The state bought another 10 acres in December 2011 before teaming with the wildlife foundation and The Conservation Fund that month to buy the 324-acre Buzz Nelson farmstead for $3.5 million. This summer, the foundation bought another 60 acres of flood plain south of the property that sits just across the river from the Iowa site.
“Now we have a contiguous parcel of land on the South Dakota side that’s just over 600 acres,” Hofer said.
Officials are also looking at buying 80 acres to the west of the Nelson farm that would serve as a permanent park entrance.
The Oneota culture wasn’t a single tribe but conglomerate of groups with similar characteristics dating back to 1200 or earlier. The Oneota grew corn and other staples, hunted bison, made pottery, built circular lodges and stored perishable food underground in bell-shaped storage pits lined with grass and covered with logs or bison hides.
Many Oneota groups settled on flood plains along rivers, and the Blood Run site eight miles southeast of Sioux Falls is likely the largest of the Oneota sites. The area was occupied in later times by the Omaha, Ponca, Ioway and Oto, and archeologists believe that many tribes can trace their lineage back to the Oneota.
Blood Run is believed to have received its name from white settlers, perhaps because the iron-rich rocks leached into the stream on the Iowa side to give it a reddish tint.
Iowa’s Blood Run National Landmark Site across the Big Sioux River is managed by the State Historical Society of Iowa and the Lyon County Conservation Board. People can visit the site by booking guided tours through the county. It is home to Blood Run Creek and features numerous burial mounds. There are several pink granite boulders whitened from weathering and adorned with 2-inch cup-shaped indentations that have a symbolic or spiritual purpose.
The entire Blood Run site could eventually encompass some 1,400 acres in South Dakota and Iowa. The department’s master plan calls for entrance roads, a visitors center, historic preservation and interpretation, group and rustic camping areas, ceremonial sites and a pedestrian bridge linking the South Dakota and Iowa sides.
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