Born to be Wild!

WASHTO 2018 is just a few weeks away!!  As I watch the staff working on the final arrangements it reminds me a lot of a construction project nearing its completion deadline.  Though the project is pretty much complete, there are always those things on the punch list that must get done before we can open the road up to traffic or in this case start welcoming all of you to South Dakota.

I can’t stress enough that we are taking a very casual approach to WASHTO 2018.  The business attire can stay in your closet at home and bring your casual wear with you.  And while I’m talking about fashion -- which is totally outside my area of expertise – I want to remind you to bring something to wear on Sunday Night that “shows your colors”.  We want you to wear a shirt that shows your pride in your favorite sports team, university, high school, company or transportation department. If you are feeling adventurous, wear your biker gear. Bikers “wear their colors” and that’s why we’re asking you to show us who you represent or support. 

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The opening night reception is a tribute to the iconic Sturgis Motorcycle Rally held in August each year.  This event brings motorcyclist from around the world to the small town of Sturgis which is north of Rapid City.  They come by the hundreds of thousands each year.  The South Dakota DOT has a significant role in keeping all those bikers moving safely throughout the Black Hills and state.   If you’re interested in learning more about the rally check out:  sturgis.com.

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At the reception I hope you will get a feel for what it’s like to attend the rally.  The local Harley Davidson dealer will have a Harley or two for you to check out and get a picture on.  Stop by the Curvy Roads Tattoo parlor and get temporarily “inked”.  Listen to some of the classic rock that fills the streets and campgrounds of Sturgis each year.  Meet up with old friends and make new connections.  Sunday night is a time for fun and great memories. 

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There’s still time for you to register if you haven’t already.  Registration closes on June 1st.  Let me put in one more plug for the Deadwood Excursion on Sunday.  Deadwood has something for people of all ages.  It’s a great taste of the old west.  The Deadwood Trolley is easy to use and gets you to wherever you want to go around the town.  Though the time there is on your own, there will be staff available to help you and give you suggestions.  I hope you’ll check out Deadwood while you are here.

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Darin P. Bergquist, Secretary
South Dakota Department of Transportation

Spouse and Guest Adventures

As you are making your final plans to attend WASHTO 2018, I hope you are bringing your spouse or guest with you.  The Black Hills is a destination vacation spot for people of all ages.  The spouse/guest activities were designed to showcase a variety of what the Black Hills has to offer.  

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The first event is on Monday, June 11th.  It starts with a fantastic opportunity to see the world’s largest mountain craving in progress.  Crazy Horse Memorial is entirely privately funded and has been a labor of love by Ziolkowski family.  The mission of Crazy Horse Memorial is to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians. Work began in 1947.  When completed the carving will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high.  Lunch is at Laughing Waters Restaurant which has a spectacular view of the mountain carving and some of the area’s best cuisine.  Following lunch, the next stop is Hill City.  Once in Hill City, stroll the streets and shops before you board the 1880 Train to Keystone.  The Black Hills Central Railroad is the oldest continuously operating tour railroad in the nation and operates three steam and two diesel engines throughout the season.  Once in Keystone, spend some time shopping and exploring before returning to Rapid City in time for the vendor reception and trip to the Game Lodge and Mt. Rushmore.

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Tuesday (June 12th) will be a little more relaxed and easy-going after the hectic day on Monday.  This is the day to do some wine tasting at the local wineries in Hill City.  South Dakota isn’t known as “wine country” but local wineries are getting some national recognition for innovative wines.  This is a chance to learn about the unique wines bottled in this part of the country and enjoy lunch at Prairie Berry Winery. 

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Finally, Wednesday (June 13th) will start with working on a philanthropic project called Sole Hope.  In fact, we are having a Sole Hope Shoe Party.  It’s a chance to be included in the shoe making process that will change the lives of children in Uganda.  No special sewing or cobbler skills required.   You are prepping the fabric that will be finished into shoes in Uganda and go on the feet of patients to aid in living a life free from jiggers.  For more information on this worthy project:  http://solehope.org/  After the shoe party, there is a walking tour of downtown Rapid City ending with lunch at The Rushmore Hotel.  After lunch, it’s a short walk back to the Civic Center for the Closing Ceremonies or stay downtown and continue exploring the various shops and galleries. 

Just a reminder that early registration ends on May 10th.  There’s a lot packed into three days and I didn’t even mention the Spouse/Guest Hospitality room at the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn that will be open as a place to rest and relax throughout the conference.  The staff planning the spouse/guest events and hospitality room have a few surprises in store.  Hope you’ll bring your family and friends with you.  And maybe think about staying a couple extra days and do even more exploring of the Black Hills.  

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Darin P. Bergquist, Secretary
South Dakota Department of Transportation

Rails to Trails

I already established I’m not a golfer.  I must admit I’m not a cyclist either but if you are, you have a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a truly unique ride through the Black Hills.  The Mickelson Trail is in the heart of the Black Hills.  It’s got a gentle grade and easy access that makes this trail ride perfect for bikers of all ages and abilities.  There is a group of SDDOT employees who do their own ride each year.  It’s become a popular event for staff from across the state to attend.  

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This trail was once a vital rail line that went from Edgemont, South Dakota to the northern Black Hills and the gold mines of the Deadwood area.  It was originally built in 9 months and 22 days.   It was abandoned in 1983.  A group of outdoor enthusiasts recognized the trail’s potential, and with the support of then Governor Mickelson, it became South Dakota’s first Rails-to-Trails project.  

I’m proud to say the SDDOT was a part of a group that included the US Forest Service, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, National Guard, South Dakota Department of Corrections and local friends of the Mickelson Trail that worked for many years to see the trail completed in 1998.  

The trail is 109 miles long and contains more than 100 converted railroad bridges and 4 rock tunnels.  The trail surface is primarily crushed limestone and gravel.  There are 15 trailheads, all of which offer parking, self-sale trail pass stations, vault toilets, and tables.

While you won’t be riding the entire trail, you will be riding a portion of the trail that is extremely scenic and designed for riders of all skill levels.  The riders will start at Dumont and ride approximately 3 hours along 32 miles of the trail south into Hill City, the first organized town in the Black Hills.  Along the way you will traverse through 4 tunnels and many bridges as you cross the headwaters of Rapid Creek. 

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The staff planning this event has years of experience cycling the trail.  There will be a shadow vehicle in case the 32 miles a little more than you bargained for.  Bike rentals are available to make it easy for you to participate.  Hope you’ll take advantage of this chance to spend time in the heart of the Black Hills on the Mickelson Trail. 

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Darin P. Bergquist, Secretary
South Dakota Department of Transportation

FORE!

Golf isn’t my sport.  I’ve just never caught the golf bug though I work with a lot of avid golfers.  Our department even has its own golf league.  Even with my lack of golf I.Q., I know that the Club at Red Rock is one of the top-rated golf courses in South Dakota public or private.  Golf Digest and Golfweek Magazine have rated the Club at Red Rock the top rated public course in South Dakota for 12 years running.  

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According to the golf gurus of the department, the course is as challenging as it is scenic.  But it’s not too challenging – it’s designed for people from beginners to avid golfers.  It’s a 7000-yard, par 72 course with dramatic views and elevation changes.  There are link-style bunkers and USGA Spec Greens.  It offers a number of risk-reward opportunities depending on your shot selection as well as several blind shots that will test your patience and skill. 

The WASHTO 2018 golf tournament is for people of all skill levels.  It’s four-person scramble so you have teammates to share the thrill of victory or agony of defeat.  If you use your foot wedge a little more than normally allowed or are the champion golfer of your home course – this tournament is designed for you to have a great time and make some great memories.  There will be pin prizes and team recognition.  If there’s someone you want to play with be sure to list that on your registration.  

I’ll be around the course taking pictures, which is my way to enjoy a round of golf.  Hope to see you on the links.  There’s still time to sign up and join us at the first tee on June 10th.  

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Darin P. Bergquist, Secretary
South Dakota Department of Transportation

 

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Explore the Wild Wild West

As you are making your plans to come to WASHTO 2018, I hope you’ll consider coming early so you can take part in one of the pre-conference events.  The first one I’d like to highlight is the Deadwood Excursion.  Deadwood is in the northern Black Hills and about 45 minutes from Rapid City. 

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Gold was discovered in the southern Black Hills in 1874 and that set off one of the great gold rushes in America.  In 1876, miners moved into the northern Black Hills.  They came across a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold.  That’s the beginning of the Deadwood saga. 

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The tiny gold camp erupted into a town practically overnight.  The folks that lived in Deadwood lived by their own rules.  It was a magnet for outlaws, gamblers and gunslingers, as well as those seeking their fortune in gold.  Wild Bill Hickok was one of those men who came looking for his fortune.  Just a few weeks after arriving, he was gunned down while holding a poker hand of aces and eights – forever known as the Dead Man’s Hand. 

Deadwood was filled with colorful characters.  Calamity Jane made a name for herself in these parts and is buried next to Hickok at Mount Moriah Cemetery.  Other legends, like Potato Creek Johnny, Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen created their own legacies in Deadwood. 

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Deadwood has survived three major fires and numerous economic hardships which almost made it just another Old West ghost town.  In 1989, limited-wage gambling was legalized and Deadwood was reborn. 

Today, Deadwood is a booming town again.  It has modern-day casinos, museums, artifacts, tours, shopping, spas, unique dining experiences and so much more to see.  Check out www.deadwood.com to learn more about what you can do in Deadwood.  Deadwood has something to offer for people of all ages.  It’s a family friendly adventure.

If you decide to go on the Deadwood excursion, we’ll bus you to Deadwood and then you’ll be on your own to explore the city.  And we’ll get you back to Rapid City so you don’t miss the opening night reception.  There will be staff traveling with you to assist you.  Deadwood has a trolley that you’ll ride for free to get around the community.  It’s your opportunity to see this historic community and experience the old west. 

If Deadwood doesn’t interest you, we have a golf tournament and biking on Sunday.  I’ll talk more about that in a later blog.  Hope you’ll join us on Sunday for great fun before the conference starts.

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Planes, Trains & Neutrinos

Tech Tours are the mid-conference break from presentations and a chance to see unique and interesting facets of each state.  The WASHTO 2018 Tech Tours offer a wide variety of opportunities that I like to call Planes, Trains and Neutrinos.  

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Planes.  If you want to see some planes, then the tour of Ellsworth Air Force Base is your tour.  Ellsworth Airforce Base is the home of the 28th Bomb Wing – one of only two B-1B bases in the world.   It also has the South Dakota Air & Space Museum which has 30 vintage military aircraft from World War II to the B-1 bomber.  There are both indoor and outdoor displays that span aviation history and innovation.  Also included in this unique tour of the base is a tour of a Minuteman II Missile Silo.  This is the only Minuteman II silo in the nation that allows the public to go inside the installation.  Don’t forget your I.D. to get through security at the base.  

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Trains.  Bridge and train enthusiasts, I’ve got the tour for you.  On the way to the 1880 train, we’re going to take you by a unique structure.  The Keystone Wye bridge is an interchange featuring two unique structural glued laminated timber bridges.  It was constructed in 1967-68 as part of a project to convert US 16 to a four-lane highway.  You’ll learn a lot more about the concept to construction on your way to Keystone.  Once in Keystone you’ll hop aboard the 1880 Train.  This historical steam train experience is narrated and fun for all ages.  When you arrive at Hill City, you’ll have a chance to tour the State Railroad Museum before heading back to Rapid City 

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Neutrinos.  What in the heck do neutrinos have to do with anything?  It’s all the rage in Lead, South Dakota.  At the Sanford Underground Research Facility, scientists are trying to solve the most fundamental questions about the universe in the old Homestake Gold Mine.  Once the largest gold mine in the western hemisphere, now the mine is home to groundbreaking research on the mysteries of neutrinos and the search for dark matter.  Your tour includes a trip through historic Lead, and a surface tour of Sanford Underground Research Facility. In the Yates hoist room, you’ll see hoists that have been in operation since 1939, including how they are maintained. You’ll also learn about the more-than 5,000 feet of rope that take personnel to the underground. If you’re lucky, you may even see the hoists in action. You’ll also learn a little bit about the mining process and the state-of-the-art Waste Water Treatment Plant designed by Homestake Mining Company and still used today by Sanford Underground Research Facility.  

Whether you opt for planes, trains or neutrinos, you can’t go wrong.  There’s something for everyone.    
 

Silent Cal and his South Dakota Adventure


South Dakota had presidential fever in 1927.  That’s the year that Calvin Coolidge made the Black Hills his summer White House.  President Coolidge couldn’t stand the summers in Washington D.C.   The heat and humidity aggravated his bronchitis.  For the summer of 1927 he resolved to vacation somewhere "west of the Allegheny's and east of the Rockies."  That was South Dakota's opportunity to strike. 

Even in the 1920’s, without Twitter or Facebook, there was a thirst for presidential gossip or news.  Newspapers paid attention to what a President said or did.  South Dakota was desperate to get national attention on the Black Hills and start developing it as a tourist attraction.  That gave South Dakota Senator Peter Norbeck and others an idea.  South Dakota would invite President Coolidge to come to the Black Hills for the summer.  The state legislature passed a formal resolution on January 7, 1927 that colorfully painted the Black Hills as having lofty peaks, magnificent forest, sparkling streams and “ideal” climate, but also, “splendid fishing, golf, polo and tennis.”  To try to assure Coolidge that stories of gunslingers and ladies of the evening were all in the Black Hills’ past, the proclamation declared “the population in and about the mountains is intelligent and moral.”  After letters, legislative proclamations and personal invites, even Norbeck was surprised when Coolidge accepted the invitation. 

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In June 1927, President Coolidge, First Lady Grace Coolidge, their pets (two dogs, five canaries, Grace’s pet racoon, Rebecca, who lived in a wicker basket), Secret Service, White House staff and three dozen members of the national media arrived by train in Rapid City (population 7000) and then made the 32 mile trek to the State Game Lodge at Custer State Park.  The State Game Lodge would be the Summer White House where the couple lived throughout their three months in the Black Hills.  

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There are many stories about Coolidge’s time in South Dakota.  Most know that it was because of this trip that President Coolidge was persuaded to support funding for Mt. Rushmore.  One of his last actions before leaving office was signing a $250,000 appropriation bill for Mt. Rushmore.  My personal favorite was what the state government did to make sure that the President was successful on his fishing excursions.  To ensure that Coolidge caught fish every day in Grace Coolidge Creek, the state installed fishnets above and below the park and then dumped 2000 trout from the state fish hatchery.  These weren’t small fish either.  These were large breeding trout that the hatchery was planning to get rid of anyway.  They were lazy, big and easily catchable.  Rumor has it they didn’t taste too great, but the President was proud of the catch and ate them regularly.  On one of Governor Bulow’s visit to see the President, he had to choke down the trout which tasted like horse meat and ground liver.  That truly was taking one for the team.  

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There’s a lot more I could say about Coolidge’s time in South Dakota but I’d rather you see it for yourself.  That’s why we are hosting all the WASHTO 2018 attendees at the State Game Lodge for a dinner of buffalo prime rib, walleye (which tastes much better than trout!) and other South Dakota favorites.  You’ll get to see where Silent Cal spent the summer of 1927 and why he stayed for three months when he originally planned to only be here for three weeks.  Following dinner, we’ll take you to one of the Nation’s most iconic “great faces”, Mt. Rushmore.  We’ll make sure to get there for the lighting ceremony.  I still marvel at how one man’s vision became a symbol of our democracy.  I know whether it’s your first time to the mountain or you’ve seen it before, this will be the “Great Faces” you remember most from your time in South Dakota.  

Super Bowl Superstar Off the Field

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Super Bowl LII is just about in the record books.  Whether you are a football lover or just someone who likes to watch the ads – it has become almost a national holiday for most Americans.  Most of us will gather with friends and family to watch the big game at someone’s house or local establishment.  Generally, we don’t even care who’s playing, it’s just that it’s the Super Bowl. 

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It takes a great deal of planning and preparation for any City to host the Super Bowl.  It wasn’t too surprising that the planning committee turned to Number 52, Chad Greenway, retired from the Vikings to captain “Crew 52” for Super Bowl 52. 

Crew 52 is a team of approximately 10,000 volunteers who will be a central part in making the Super Bowl a success.  Crew 52 volunteers are the great face of Minnesota as it hosts more than one million visitors during the 10-day festival. 

South Dakotans are extremely proud of our native son.  Chad grew up on a farm outside of Mt. Vernon, South Dakota (population 441).  He played nine-man football which many of the schools in South Dakota play to field a team.  He went on to University of Iowa where he was a stand-out linebacker and was drafted in the first round by Minnesota in 2006.  He had a stellar career for Vikings and was a two-time pro-bowler. After 11 years with the Minnesota Vikings, Chad Greenway retired in March 2017. 

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Chad is a strong leader both on and off the field.  His philanthropic work has earned him honors and recognition.  He was the Vikings nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year.   He was recognized as 2015 Vikings Community Man of the Year for his generosity and charity in the Twin Cities and his home state of South Dakota, his 3rd time earning the honor.  Chad donated several “Chad’s Lockers” to hospitals throughout the Upper Midwest, giving patients and their families a resource to find games and books.  He works through his Lead The Way Foundation to enhance education and health opportunities for children.  As a businessman, he honed his business acumen by partnering with locally owned Aspire Beverage company, joining the company in winter 2016.  Chad is still involved in farming today, he has been active with the ANF- America Needs Farmers efforts.

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Chad is a dynamic speaker who will share his philosophy on teamwork and being a strong leader in the locker room and his community.  We are fortunate that Chad will be with us to help kickoff the first day of WASHTO 2018 conference.  Don’t miss out on the opportunity to get his autograph after his speech.

Make Time for Mentoring at WASHTO 2018!

Whenever I go to a conference I want to come-away with a few take-aways that I can bring back to the department and easily implement.  Mentoring is a timeless idea that can work for any organization.  Ironically January is National Mentoring Month.  I thought it was an ideal time to tell you about one of the keynote speakers for WASHTO 2018. 

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Kathy Wentworth Drahosz, B.S., is the founder and President of The Training Connection, Inc., and author of The Keys to Mentoring Success. Kathy brings over twenty years of experience in business, product and people development. As a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) Kathy has helped thousands of individuals worldwide experience the power of her training programs and services. A strong focus of Kathy's work has been assisting federal agencies and businesses in developing effective, formal mentoring programs. In addition to personally presenting numerous national training programs in the mentoring field, Kathy is the developer of Dynamic Mentoring Connections, Discovering the Mentor Within and Strategic Career Management; three practical approaches to unleashing human potential. Her most pioneering endeavor has been the development of "The Mentoring Connection," an innovative web-based delivery system designed to offer businesses and other organizations a tailor made, comprehensive, effective and cost-efficient method of establishing and managing formal mentoring programs and partnerships.

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Mentoring is an important part of the culture at the SDDOT.  It’s cultivating the next generation of leaders and helping employees with their professional growth and development.  The benefits of a sustained and effective formal mentoring program are too numerous to mention in this blog.  That’s why we are fortunate to have a keynote speaker who is an expert on mentoring and development of successful mentoring programs. 

A formal mentoring program doesn’t work for every agency.  Kathy will also share information about the values of informal mentoring, reverse mentoring and digital (long distance) mentoring.  I hope you plan to attend Kathy’s keynote presentation on June 13, 2018 and that mentoring will be one of those take-aways for you.

Home for the Holidays!

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It’s amazing how quickly the seasons change each year.  For most people it’s the holiday season.  For the northern WASHTO states we’ve switched from construction season to winter maintenance season.  It’s easy to feel a little bah-humbug when the wind, snow and ice make travel difficult.  At this time of year I am grateful for the many transportation workers who meet the winter maintenance challenges with the highest level of professionalism and concern for the safety of the traveling public.  With the increased travel over the holiday season, these “great faces” are essential to making sure everyone gets over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house or wherever they may be heading. 

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Many of those holiday travelers are headed to Pierre this time of year.  We experience an influx of people from around the state due to Christmas at the Capitol.  This unique holiday tradition of decorating the Capitol started in 1981 with 12 trees has spread to nearly 100 trees throughout the Capitol Rotunda and hallways.  The centerpiece is South Dakota’s official Christmas tree which is a stately spruce tree typically donated by a South Dakota family.  The Governor officially flips the switch to turn on the lights on the trees the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  The display is open to the public until the day after Christmas. 

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This major decking of the halls is done by volunteers from across the state.  Cities, businesses, nonprofit groups and other civic organizations apply throughout the year for a tree. If selected, they spend the weekend before Thanksgiving busily stringing lights and tinsel and hanging handcrafted ornaments. Among the capitol’s most treasured pieces are a set of hand-painted porcelain ornaments from the state china painters’ organization and a wooden nativity, believed to be nearly 125 years old, that the local Knights of Columbus sets up on the second floor.

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It always amazes me each year to see how these volunteers transform the Capitol into a winter wonderland.  Talented musicians fill the halls with the sounds of Christmas to add to the enjoyment for those visiting the holiday display.  I look forward to every opportunity I get to go over to the Capitol.  Though we won’t be able to showcase our Capitol when you’re in South Dakota for WASHTO 2018 if you’re ever in the neighborhood at Christmas time, make sure you check it out.   

May your holidays be filled with happiness, good health & safe travels.

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Darin P. Bergquist, Secretary
South Dakota Department of Transportation

Top 10 To Do's in South Dakota

Now that the 77th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is over, the Black Hills tourist season is winding down for the year, farmers are beginning to gear up for harvest season and schools are heading back into session, planning for WASHTO 2018 in beautiful South Dakota is in full swing!

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Not only will we have a jam packed and informative agenda of technical presentations, in your free time you’ll have the opportunity to tour the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, attend the moving lighting ceremony at Mt. Rushmore, visit Custer State Park and wander the streets of historic Deadwood and engage in some casino gambling.  Thought I might share my Top 10 things to do or see while you’re in South Dakota:

  1. Mt. Rushmore (We’re taking you there on Monday Night)
  2. Crazy Horse Monument(Spouse/Guest Tour will see this on Monday)
  3. Historic Deadwood (Better in person than portrayed in the TV series!)
  4. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway(It’s an awesome drive any time but in the fall it’s outstanding)
  5. Wall Drug (about 50 miles east of Rapid City – can’t beat the donuts!)
  6. Badlands National Park (again about 50 miles from Rapid City but worth the drive)
  7. Custer State Park (You’ll be dining where Calvin Coolidge held his summer White House)
  8. Mammoth Site at Hot Springs (about 50 miles south of Rapid City – working archaeological site)
  9. Wind Cave National Park(65 miles southwest of Rapid City -- one of the longest and most complex caves in the world)
  10. Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road in Custer State Park – (unique pigtails and tunnels add to the scenic route through the Black Hills)

Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas on things you can do while you’re here.  Believe me there’s so much more!  We look forward to hosting you in South Dakota for WASHTO 2018!!