In 1874, a flow of settlers were lured into the Black Hills by the discovery of gold. Through the gold rush, industries such as logging, ranching and farming began to grow.
Rapid City was founded in 1876. It’s the county seat of Pennington County and is located about 30 miles from the western border of South Dakota, midway north and south, in the eastern foothills of the Black Hills. Spring-fed Rapid Creek flows through the city, paralleling the main business streets. Rapid City is the transportation center of western South Dakota. The city’s elevation is about 3,240 feet above sea level.
Current estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau place Rapid City’s population at more than 70,000. The city area encompasses 44.7 square miles and is the largest in the state. The city’s 200-mile retail trade area has a total population of more than 450,000.
The climate is semi-arid, with excellent flying conditions, moderate winters, cool summer nights and low humidity. Average temperature is 46.6 degrees with an average annual precipitation of 55.8 inches.
Local industry includes agriculture and tourism, along with science, medical, engineering, technology, military-related and energy industries.
Agriculture is the lifeblood of South Dakota. It is the state’s No. 1 industry and the No. 2 industry in western South Dakota. For the farmers and ranchers who work the land, it is more than a job — it is a career and a way of life. Although the way things are done have changed, agriculture remains the common thread linking the citizens, businesses and communities of our area.
The rural Rapid City area is home to more than 650 working farms, making up 1,185,055 acres of farmland and producing more than 280,000 acres in cropland. The average size farm in this area is approximately 1,400 acres. Western South Dakota’s No. 1 harvested crop is wheat.
Livestock production in western South Dakota is in vast abundance. The top three products are beef cattle, sheep and bison.
The Black Hills are an emerald-green oasis towering above the endless sea of prairie that surrounds them. Ponderosa pine dominates the Black Hills forest along with the Black Hills spruce (South Dakota’s state tree), trembling aspens, paper birch and other bottomland hardwood trees. Elevations reach as high as 7,300 feet, and while the geography and terrain are tremendously varied, it is invariably breathtaking. Wildlife is diverse and abundant, ranging from impressive trout fisheries to big game species like elk, bison, whitetail and mule deer, and bighorn sheep. In many ways, the Black Hills are a mixing ground of east and west, of mountains and plains, and of moist and arid climates.
Area Culture and Background
Ellsworth is the largest employer in the West River region and the second-largest in the state. There are more than 750 civilians working on base. The total economic impact on the surrounding communities was nearly $353 million in 2011. Communities within close proximity to the base are Rapid City and Box Elder.
However, this is only a small part of the contribution the Airmen of Ellsworth make to the broader community.
Ellsworth Airmen and the 28th Bomb Wing are not just next to a great community, we are part of a great community. Our approximately 8,300 Airmen and family members are dedicated to playing an active role in the welfare of the broader Black Hills — far beyond just jobs and payroll. In 2010, Ellsworth Airmen volunteered more than 37,000 hours on and off base helping the local community. Some of their contributions include coaching children’s sports and working with Honor Flight, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and many other local charities.
Today, South Dakota boasts one of the nation’s most stable economies. The presence of Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Mountain, numerous other attractions and the scenic beauty of the Black Hills make tourism a major industry, particularly in the summer months. Mining, logging and agriculture also contribute to the coffers of one of the few remaining states to run at a budget surplus.
Perhaps because of the long and colorful history of the area, most citizens foster a strong sense of both community and pride. Local city and town governments reflect this attitude.
The political structure of the area is designed to meet the needs of growing communities. The “good neighbor” concept, established in Old West traditions, seems to be a governing principle for an area where people can still pay by check — with no identification required. City and county government is active, highly participative and addresses issues ranging from law enforcement to environmental concerns.
Cowboy boots, pickup trucks, high plains grassland and pine-covered mountains may give Rapid City a Western flair and easygoing lifestyle, but living or visiting Rapid City also creates a striking atmosphere for music, art and drama.
The arts are an important part of the community and are growing strong thanks to dedicated support from civic-minded volunteers, educators and a government interested in supporting the variety the arts can add to city life.
Rapid City and the Black Hills area have a thriving arts and culture scene that encompasses the values and history of our region. Rapid City’s premier arts center, the Dahl, is a public facility owned by the city of Rapid City. Since it opened in 1974, the Dahl has been the center for contemporary visual arts, arts education and performing arts. The Dahl is managed by the Rapid City Arts Council, which is one of the oldest and most respected arts councils in South Dakota. The mission of the Arts Council is to bring art and people together to strengthen the community.
The Allied Arts Fund provides operation and promotional support for A Cappella Showcase, Bells of the Hills, Black Hills Chamber Music Society, Black Hills Community Theatre, Black Hills Dance Theatre, Black Hills Playhouse, Black Hills Symphony Orchestra, Dakota Artists Guild, Dakota Choral Union, Rapid City Arts Council and Rapid City Concert Association. In addition, they provide funding for other nonprofit grassroots community art projects. Together, all these groups represent the most active and established arts organizations in the Black Hills and provide more than 1,200 culturally enriching events each year.
- A Cappella Showcase presents area singers and musicians in their area concerts.
- The Bells of the Hills presents two handbell concerts annually.
- Black Hills Chamber Music Society presents a five-concert series of chamber music for the public each year and sponsors a music enrichment program for children in the Black Hills Children’s Home.
- Black Hills Community Theatre reaches out to everyone in the Black Hills, providing them with the opportunity to learn, share and experience the performing arts through participation, classes or being an audience member at quality theatrical productions in the Black Hills. They do this by producing five Main Stage shows each year, one dinner theater fundraiser, four children’s theater productions, a senior theater program that performs at various senior centers and housing complexes throughout the region, and theater project development with the Suzie Cappa Players of the Black Hills Workshop.
- Black Hills Dance Theatre provides quality in dance education, performance and experience to audiences in the Black Hills region; presents The Nutcracker Ballet biennially; and sponsors a performance from a nationally acclaimed dance company every year.
- Black Hills Playhouse presents 60 to 65 performances that serve more than 15,000 patrons. They provide hands-on educational experiences for students with employment and internships.
- Black Hills Symphony Orchestra presents a five-concert series and co-sponsors the Young Artist Competition with the Black Hills Symphony League.
- Dakota Artists Guild provides art shows at First United Methodist Church, Black Hills Community Theatre and Black Hills Piano Gallery. They host artist workshops and sponsor youth scholarships.
- Dakota Choral Union performs annual series of four concerts with its nonauditioned choir.
- Rapid City Arts Council presents, promotes and preserves the arts through education, exhibits, performances and collections.
- Rapid City Concert Association presents an annual concert series featuring renowned, nationally known artists. Formed in 1937, it is Rapid City’s oldest arts organization.
When it comes to education, South Dakota is wired for success. When it comes to computers, South Dakota has one of the highest computer-to-student ratios.
In the Black Hills, education doesn’t end with high school. This region is home to two state universities, a technical institute and several private colleges.
Workers are well-educated; 24 percent of employed citizens hold a bachelor’s degree, while nearly 9 percent hold an advanced degree.
Incoming families are encouraged to register their children in school as soon as possible. When registering children in school, parents need to provide the record of attendance and grades from previous schools, if available, and a birth certificate for kindergarten registration. Shot records are also needed when registering kindergartners.
Rapid City Area Schools District
The Rapid City Area Schools district, the second largest district in South Dakota, is dedicated to providing students equal access to an excellent educational program, which results in their becoming responsible citizens who know how to learn, value lifelong learning and cope with life in a changingsociety.
With an enrollment of more than 13,000 students, the district encompasses more than 419 square miles. It consists of 16 elementary schools, five middle schools and two high schools.
The district provides multifaceted educational opportunities through regular and special classes, community education programs and extensive after-school, cocurricular activities.
Committed to community involvement, Rapid City Area Schools encourage phone calls or visits to any schools or offices.
Bus transportation is available to Rapid City Area Schools district students in first through eighth grade who live more than 2.5 miles from their assigned attendance area.
Rapid City Regional Hospital
Regional Health is an integrated health care system with the purpose of helping patients and communities live well. The organization, with headquarters in Rapid City, S.D., provides community-based health care in more than 20 communities in two states and 32 specialty areas of medicine. As the largest private employer in western South Dakota, Regional Health is comprised of five hospitals, 24 clinic locations and employs nearly 5,000 physicians and caregivers. Regional Health is committed to the future of medicine, with medical training partnerships, a medical residency program, and more than 130 active research studies.
Located in Rapid City, Rapid City Regional Hospital (RCRH) is the largest hospital in the Regional Health system with more than 3,300 caregivers. RCRH is verified as a Level II Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons. Along with emergency services, the hospital also provides advanced cardiac care, cancer care, behavioral health services, surgical services, rehabilitation, home health and hospice services, diagnostic imaging, obstetrics, neonatal intensive care and pediatric care. Regional Health also operates Urgent Care Clinics and specialty clinics throughout the Rapid City area.
Black Hills Regional Eye Institute
The Black Hills Regional Eye Institute has been offering eye care since 1982. The institute serves the surrounding five-state region with 12 satellite locations and a modern eye care facility in Rapid City. Experienced physicians and staff are experts in all areas of eye exams, glaucoma treatment, cataract surgery, the retina and cornea, pediatric care and strabismus, oculoplastics and refractive surgery techniques to lessen the need for glasses or contact lenses.
Employment Opportunities and Procedures
Off-duty Employment: The Airman and Family Readiness Center, located at the Rushmore Center, provides employment assistance.
Full-time or Part-time Employment for Family Members: Rapid City Career Center has a vast listing of jobs that individuals may apply for. This agency offers an excellent beginning for military dependents looking for full- or part-time employment. For more information about the South Dakota Department of Labor and Rapid City Career Center, located at 111 New York St. in Rapid City, call 605-394-2296.
Volunteer Positions: The Airman and Family Readiness Center at Ellsworth can provide information for individuals interested in volunteer work. For more information, call the Airman and Family Readiness Center at 605-385-4663.
The Rapid City Regional Airport, located 11 miles from Ellsworth off Highway 44, is one of the most active airports in the region. The airport has an 8,701-foot main runway and a 3,600-foot asphalt crosswind runway. Rapid City Regional Airport serves Black Hills with several commercial airlines, such as Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Express. Ground transportation is provided by Airport Express Shuttle, taxi and six car rental brands. For more information, call 605-393-9924.
The Rapid Transit Center is located at 333 Sixth St. in Rapid City. Rapid Ride provides daily bus service with routes throughout the city. For more information, call Rapid Ride at 605-394-6631.
The Rapid City Police Department employs more than 140 employees comprised of sworn officers and civilian personnel. The routine phone number for the Rapid City Police Department is 605-394-4131.
The city is serviced by the Rapid City Fire Department. The department is staffed with 135 employees. There are seven fire stations located throughout the city. The nonemergency number for the Rapid City Fire Department is 605-394-4180.
Rapid City is the gateway to the Black Hills, which offer unlimited hours of recreation, including sightseeing, hiking, camping, swimming, sailing, water skiing, fishing, spelunking, horseback riding, hunting, downhill and cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.
The entire state of South Dakota offers excellent opportunities for the outdoor sportsman. The many rivers, lakes and streams provide habitat for bass, trout, walleye and northern pike, salmon, bluegill, perch, crappie and catfish. The fall and winter seasons offer a challenge for elk, mule and whitetail deer, American pronghorn, turkey, pheasant, quail, partridge, grouse, goose, duck, prairie chicken, dove, coyote, fox, jackrabbit, cottontail, squirrel and prairie dog.
U.S. armed forces personnel who have been continuously stationed in South Dakota for at least 90 days immediately preceding application for a license are eligible to purchase resident licenses. License and licensing information are available from the Department
of Game, Fish and Parks Licensing Office, 20641 State Highway 1806, Fort Pierre,
SD 57532; the local county treasurer office; the Black Hills Center (on base); or other authorized agents. For more information, call 605-223-7660.
One of the most commonly heard phrases from visitors to Rapid City is: “If we had known there was so much to do and see in and around Rapid City, we’d have planned to stay longer.” Nestled in the eastern foothills of the Black Hills of South Dakota, Rapid City shines as the center of this legendary mountain range. From American Indian culture and Western history, to the majesty of creek-carved canyons and pine-clad granite peaks amid fine shopping and dining, you will find a wealth of opportunities in Rapid City.
Just a short drive away, you will find yourself surrounded by 2 million acres of ponderosa pine forest along with wildlife parks, breathtaking scenery and an array of outdoor recreational activities. The Black Hills are home to one of the highest concentrations of public parks, monuments and memorials in the United States. Crowned by one of America’s most unwavering symbols — Mount Rushmore National Memorial — the Black Hills are also home to Wind Cave National Park, Badlands National Park, Devils Tower National Monument, Jewel Cave National Monument and Minuteman Missile Silo National Historic Site, all within a short drive of Rapid City. Come face-to-face with mighty American bison in Custer State Park, home to the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains. Discover American Indian culture at Crazy Horse Memorial, which will be the largest mountain carving in the world when it iscompleted.
Rapid City offers visitors close proximity to the outdoor adventures of the Black Hills, with all the comforts of home, including plentiful lodging options, a variety of dining experiences, unique shopping, art galleries and museums. You will also find wildlife, exotic gardens, indoor water parks, walking trails and one-of-a-kind attractions.
Rapid City offers a city tour for visitors to easily explore many of the attractions and activities throughout the community. City tour attractions are marked by signs to guide you through the city and move you to the next location. As you stroll through downtown filled with history and unique shops, you will discover life-size bronze sculptures of past United States presidents on display. You can also pick up a trolley tour that will take you to many of the attractions throughout town.
Coupled with more than 5,300 hotel rooms — from upscale downtown hotels to national chains along the interstate — and airline service from seven of the nation’s busiest airports (Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Mesa and Salt Lake City), it’s easy to see why millions of people make Rapid City their vacation destination each year.
Where to Go, What to Do
The Rapid City Visitor Information Center is located in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Here you will find visitor information specialists who can help you make the most of your visit to Rapid City. Visitors can have questions answered or get help arranging the perfect activity. The Rapid City VIC is openyear-round 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For more information about planning a vacation to Rapid City and the Black Hills of South Dakota, call 800-487-3223 for a visitor packet or download the guide at www.visitrapidcity.com.
Residents in Rapid City have access to a variety of shopping experiences. From stores at the Rushmore Mall and Rushmore Crossing to unique downtown shops, Native American arts and crafts outlets, and Black Hills gold jewelers, residents can find plenty of shopping opportunities throughout RapidCity.
Downtown Rapid City
Downtown Rapid City is truly a sight to see. Nowhere is the collision of the historic and the modern as enjoyable as in downtown Rapid City. As you stroll along you will find a presidential bronze statue to greet you at each corner. There are both Native American art and the latest fashions and accessories decorating the storefront windows. Downtown offers an array of stores where you will surely find what you are looking for. Salons, clothing stores, South Dakota-made products and quaint restaurants can all be found in historic downtown Rapid City.
Rapid City’s selection of restaurants should satisfy anyone’s taste. The aroma of both regional and international cuisine float through Rapid City and in downtown, where culinary delights range from upscale bistro dishes to cheaper eats and local brews. There is something to satisfy any palate.
South Dakota Air and Space Museum
The South Dakota Air and Space Museum is located outside the main gate of Ellsworth AFB. The museum has inside exhibits and a gift shop. Aircraft and missile displays are located outside of the museum. There are more than 1,000 items in this collection, which range from World War I to present day. A Minuteman II Training Launch Facility, located on base, can be viewed as part of an organized museum tour.
The museum is open seven days a week, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. June through Labor Day and 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the rest of the year. The indoor museum is closed in January and February and on holidays. For more information or to arrange a tour, call 605-385-5189.
Rapid City’s museums include the Dahl Arts Center, the Sioux Indian Museum, the Journey Museum and the Museum of Geology on the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus, with some of the most famous fossils in the world.
The Journey, a state-of-the-art museum of world-class quality and size, provides an incredible trip through 2.5 billion years of Black Hills history. Hands-on and interactive exhibits showcase the geography, people and events that shaped both the history and heritage of the region. It incorporates four major prehistoric and historic collections, telling the story of the western Great Plains.
Rapid City’s public library system has three libraries: Rapid City Public Library Downtown, Rapid City Public Library North and City Public Library East. The downtown library has 170,000 physical materials (books, periodicals, DVDs) and more than 5,000 e-books, downloadable audiobooks and videos. The library has more than a million circulations each year and offers a wide range of services, programs and resources. Rapid City Public Library North is a joint-use public facility inside an elementary school. Computers with Wi-Fi, a gaming station with Wii and a large collection of children’s books are all available at this location. The City Public Library East at Western Dakota Tech offers great programming, online and print collections, e-books and more.
History of Box Elder
The city of Box Elder serves as the gateway to the Black Hills. In the late 1800s, the future site of Box Elder was a fertile valley, luring settlers west with untold promise. Lone Tree, a few miles east of Box Elder, was originally a stop for the covered wagons and horsemen coming to the Black Hills from Fort Pierre on the Black Hills Stage and Wagon Road. Box Elder was born as a whistle-stop town in 1907 when the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad built a track from Wall to Rapid City. The new town was named after the box elder trees, which grew along the head waters of the creek that flows through the valley. Box Elder was officially incorporated as a city in 1964 during the Cold War expansion of Ellsworth AFB. Today, Box Elder is home to 9,000 people, and is one of South Dakota’s fastest-growing cities. The city of Box Elder, nestled between Ellsworth and Rapid City, offers city convenience with a small-town atmosphere.
The city of Box Elder is home to the Douglas School District, one of the finest school systems in South Dakota. The district serves more than 2,500 students with Carrousel preschool services, Badger Clark Elementary, Douglas High School, Douglas Middle School, Francis Case Elementary and Vandenberg Elementary. The district is located in western South Dakota on the edge of the Black Hills and serves students from Box Elder, Ellsworth AFB and the surrounding rural area.
Children living on Ellsworth or in the Box Elder community will attend the Douglas School System. Busing is no longer provided to school children living on base. However, the Ellsworth Youth Center offers a before- and after-school program that provides busing to and from Douglas schools for a fee. For more information about bus transportation in
the surrounding Box Elder communities, contact the transportation office at 605-923-0022. The Douglas School District administrative office can be reached at 605-923-0000.
The Box Elder Police Department serves a residential population of approximately 9,000 citizens with an authorized strength of 11 full-time officers and three reserve police officers. The administrative contact phone number to the Box Elder Police Department is 605-923-1401.
The Box Elder Volunteer Fire Department proudly protects an area of 81 square miles. They are members of the Pennington County Fire Fighter’s Association and are centrally located in the city of Box Elder at 120 Box Elder Road. The VFD contact number is 605-923-1224. The VFD also hosts area voters, as a polling station, on Election Day.
Box Elder offers a variety of recreational pursuits in addition to being the Gateway to the Black Hills, such as Bandit Ball Little League, a BMX bike track, Prairie Ridge Golf Course, a paint ball arena and several city parks.
Box Elder has many varieties of businesses to serve your needs. For more information, contact the Box Elder Area Chamber of Commerce, which can be found online at www.boxeldersd.org.
In 1775, Standing Buffalo, an Oglala Sioux, discovered an area called Paha Sapa, meaning “mountains that are black.” Seen from a distance, the dense stands of pine and fir make the hills appear black against the western sky. The Black Hills were considered the center of the universe and sacred by the Sioux Indians and an oasis in the prairie by the early settlers.
Known for the gold that lured the early explorers and prospectors, the Black Hills now lure the resident and traveler to a wealth of natural wonders, more valuable than the prospectors’ gold ever was.
Within the broad confines of the Black Hills National Forest, you’ll find Custer State Park; two national monuments, Wind Cave and Devils Tower; one national park, Jewel Cave; one national memorial, Mount Rushmore; numerous sparkling lakes; and hundreds of miles of beautiful hiking trails. Fifty miles to the east, carved from the eroded remains of an ancient sea floor, is Badlands National Park.
According to Sioux legend, Wind Cave is the place where the buffalo were blown from under the earth to feed the Lakota people. In reality, changing atmospheric pressure causes a constant wind to blow from the cave that will chill the unwary who fail to bring a jacket or sweater — even in the summer.
Devils Tower is truly a natural marvel — not just a movie prop for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Just across the Wyoming border, Devils Tower looms over the Belle Fourche River where antelope and prairie dogs roam its base. For the truly adventurous and qualified, a quick climb up the tower with ropes and pitons will verify there are no little green men to be found.
Jewel Cave National Monument
Jewel Cave National Monument is reached by taking an elevator several hundred feet downward to follow the twists and turns of a cavern that is still not completely explored.
Black Hills National Forest
Surrounding all this is the Black Hills National Forest, which offers picnic and camping areas, hiking and riding trails, and fishing and boating on the numerous streams and lakes.
West of Rapid City is Sturgis, host of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally — one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the United States.
The city of Spearfish, located northwest of Rapid City, offers a scenic driving route. Spearfish Canyon has several scenic natural wonders such as Bridal Veil and Roughlock Falls.
Custer State Park
Custer State Park, in the central Black Hills, is where the largest herd of wild buffalo in the nation roams free. A wildlife trail takes you through the area where the main herd grazes, and while it may seem calm, several tons of charging buffalo can go anywhere they want. If you want a closer look, use your camera or binoculars. If you desire more refined recreation, stay at one of the four lodges that serve the park.
Badlands National Park
Fifty miles east of Rapid City, away from the trees and hills, one can find a different type of beauty in the erosion-carved spires of Badlands National Park. Carved from the eroded mud of an ancient sea floor, the Badlands were so named by Native Americans and settlers for their unsuitability as habitat and the difficulties encountered in traveling through them.
Dinosaur Park, located on Skyline Drive in Rapid City, is home to gigantic cement dinosaurs. From Dinosaur Park, one has a magnificent view of Rapid City and the Black Hills. For more information, call 605-343-8687.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
A quick 45 minutes from Rapid City sits the crown jewel of the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Carved from the granite of the mountain, the stone faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln stare out across the Black Hills as a tribute to the men and women who helped make America what it is today. The memorial is free and is best seen in the midmorning light. However, a special lighting ceremony, held from early summer to late fall, adds special meaning to the memorial. A blend of pageantry and patriotism, the ceremony lights the memorial against the night sky.
Crazy Horse Monument
Nearby another mountain sculpture is taking shape as Chief Crazy Horse emerges from the granite. Conceived on a vast scale, the sculpture is not on the mountain — it is the mountain. With entirely private funding, the sheer magnitude of work required and the vagaries of weather, it’s no surprise that a completion date is unknown. Still, slowly but surely, the face of the Lakota chief, his outstretched arm, and the head and neck of his horse are taking shape.
Further north, the old frontier town of Deadwood still thrives on the legends and ghosts of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Poker Alice. At Saloon No. 10, you can view historical Western and mining camp artifacts spanning more than 100 years. Both Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried in historic Mount Moriah Cemetery, which overlooks the town.