High Plains Western Heritage Center receives 9.5 acres of donated land

January 9, 2019

SPEARFISH— The High Plains Western Heritage Center property has just expanded by 9.5 acres, thanks to a gift of land from North Park Plaza, LLC.

“It’s hard to put into words what such a gift as this means to us,” said Karla Scovell, executive director of the center. “How do you say ‘thank you’ for something that gives us more room to dream and dream bigger and something that says to the community ‘we believe in you.’ It means more than we can ever say.”

Scovell said the Heritage Center board of directors had its eye on the property for several years and had been in talks with the owners for more than a year on the possibility of purchasing the land. But suddenly, in early December, the group approached the center about the donation.

“Several years ago we bought 40 acres in this area and slowly developed it,” said Joe Jorgensen, a member of the North Park Plaza group. “There was a little over nine acres in front of the Heritage Center left that we felt needed to remain open space. We decided that the best thing to do was to gift it to the Heritage Center.”

The donation was effective Dec. 31, 2018.

Three members of the North Park Plaza group, Jorgensen, Rick Furnish, and Steve Williams, made a presentation of the deed of the property to the Heritage Center’s board of directors Saturday.

“Part of the beauty of the area where we live are the open spaces,” said Williams. “So to have this here and undeveloped will be really nice.”

The donation was a shock to board members.

“It was totally unexpected, and we are really appreciative of it,” said board member Doris Richter, whose father, Ed Gardner, was one of the founders of the center. “My father would have been very proud and thankful for this deed. For a while we’ve been the building up on the hill. Now this says the community is behind us.”

The High Plains Western Heritage Center opened on Sept. 1, 1989, and pays homage to the pioneers, and American Indians of South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Nebraska.

The land lies between the north edge of the center’s property and the south side of the new Knecht’s Home Center off of 27th Street. It will remain open, providing a clear sightline up the hillside to the museum and will also allow a possible new front entrance to the center.

“The main thing for this piece of property is that it will tie this building down the hillside with no development so that it will become a landscape of open space,” said Tom Matthews, vice president of the board of directors. “It will add to the glamour of this particular building and also provide us the option for a new entrance to the center.”

Scovell said the new entrance would ease congestion along Heritage Drive, a main travel corridor into a housing development.

“When our visitors and especially our bus groups come up Heritage Drive, that’s a very narrow street. There are a lot of new residents and new apartments being built so there’s more traffic. So a new entrance will ease congestion for one thing and will give us much more visibility right off the interstate,” she said. “It should increase the numbers in our museum exponentially in years to come.”

Scovell said there is no timetable for construction of a new entrance just yet. But this spring work is expected to begin on expanding the parking area behind the center. As of Monday, the original press release from the Heritage Center stated that the South Dakota National Guard would provide blasting and grading of the rocky hillside in order to provide more spaces for buses and vehicles to park.

However, a press release later in the day did not include the information about the work being done by the National Guard.

When contacted by the Black Hills Pioneer, the National Guard said there are no plans at this time to conduct the work, nor has the required paperwork been submitted from the Heritage Center.

Other capital improvements planned include adding a kitchen, restroom facilities and banquet hall onto the east side of the existing structure. “People know about us in the area, but they may not realize that we have to expand in order to continue to make this property really useful,” Matthews said.

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