Noem sees Hot Springs as vacation destination for veterans

November 13, 2018

CORRECTS TO MONDAY, NOT TUESDAY, WHEN GOVERNOR-ELECT NOEM MADE THE STATEMENT - FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2013 file photo, the Veterans Affairs clinic rests on a hill above downtown in Hot Springs, S.D. Many sandstone buildings comprise the old downtown along the river. South Dakota Gov.-elect Kristi Noem said Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, that she wants to make the southern Black Hills city known for its Veterans Affairs health care campus a vacation destination for military veterans from across the country.(Benjamin Brayfield/Rapid City Journal via AP, File)

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov.-elect Kristi Noem said this week that she wants to make a southern Black Hills city known for its Veterans Affairs health care campus a vacation destination for military veterans from across the country.

While serving in Congress, Noem helped stave off the closure of the campus in Hot Springs, a historic community about 50 miles south of Mount Rushmore National Memorial that also houses the State Veterans Home. Noem broached her idea during a postelection rally in Rapid City the day after Veterans Day, the Rapid City Journal reported .

“My vision is that Hot Springs will be America’s veterans town,” Noem said.

Noem said she has spoken to the mayor and City Council members in Hot Springs about the idea, which she said would require cooperation from state tourism and economic development officials. Mayor George Kotti said the city of about 3,500 people looks forward to working with Noem to make it happen.

“Hot Springs is a veterans town, and that’s our DNA,” he said. “It’s just a unique town that people really kind of come and feel at home here, and so I think that that added push, not only will help visitors come, but I think some will choose to stay on here.”

Kotti said Hot Springs is also seeking to build a “veterans walkway” looking over the Fall River that would be adorned with flags and could include a patriotic light show in the future. Area attractions include Wind Cave National Park, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary and the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs.

Kotti said tourism has a huge impact on Hot Springs’ economy; It’s also a major industry for the state, bringing 13.9 million visitors who spent $3.9 billion in 2017.

Noem defeated Democrat Billie Sutton in the general election. The incoming Republican governor named her transition team last week and will be sworn into office on Jan. 5.

Another priority Noem listed at the rally is a plan to put caseworkers in the governor’s office to help residents who encounter difficulties with state offices, similar to congressional offices that have staff members who help constituents who run into problems with federal government agencies.

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