Huge tribal national park proposed

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Thousands of acres taken from the Oglala Sioux Tribe nearly 70 years ago would be returned and managed as a tribal national park under a proposal from the National Park Service.

The change involves the 208 square-mile South Unit that’s part of Badlands National Park in southwest South Dakota.

In 1942, the U.S. government’s War Department took what is now the South Unit from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to establish a practice bombing range that was used until the 1960s. The land was later returned to the tribe as government-held trust land to be managed by the Park Service as part of Badlands National Park.

Giving the tribe responsibility for the land is the preferred option from four management alternatives for the South Unit. It would be the first tribal national park in the nation and require congressional approval, said Steve Thede, deputy superintendent of Badlands National Park. “We’re setting precedence, kind of a scary place but kind of an exciting place to be too,” said Thede.

The 133,300-acre South Unit and the more heavily visited 109,456-acre North Unit within Badlands National Park are now managed by the National Park Service.

Birgil Kills Straight, executive director of the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority, said full conversion to tribal management would take several years.

He said a tribal national park would complement a Lakota Heritage and Education Center being built by the tribe and tie in with a proposed scenic byway through the reservation to the Crazy Horse Monument being carved in the Black Hills. The new management plan and accompanying environmental impact statement are subject to a 60-day comment period that will include five public meetings.