Dave Ressler talks about his first day on the job at the Custer, South Dakota Chamber Of Commerce. “I showed up wearing a suit and tie and the staff looked at me and said you may want to go home and change your clothes.”
Mr. Ressler, who has now lived here for over ten years learned quickly what makes this town of 1,800 such an attractive place for people to visit. Asked to pick one word to describe it he responds “genuine”.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Custer before this recent stop. Of course, I was familiar with some of the popular sight-seeing favorites: Crazy Horse, Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore. While touring Custer’s downtown I jokingly asked if people are surprised when they come down the hill and see that there’s an actual town here. The overwhelming response was that people are always surprised when they discover it for themselves.
Rapid City, 60 miles away is often thought of as the hub for South Dakota tourists wanting to explore the region. Custer is a far better alternative for travelers who enjoy a slower pace, a bit more quiet and of course the charms of a small town. There are various accommodation options including a top notch Holiday Inn where my Dad and I happened to stay during our visit. There are locally owned dining options – we only found two chains: a Subway and a Dairy Queen.
Dining at Buglin’ Bull along Custer’s Mount Rushmore Road, owner Janet Boyer tells me she gets the opportunity to see lots of visitors who have life changing memories because of their choice in choosing a “small town” like Custer. “The fact that we are surrounded by the Black Hills and all of the natural attributes like lakes, mountains and wildlife – a visit here really enriches your life” says Boyer.
Perhaps the best way to grasp the full beauty of the region is from the air. Black Hills Aerial Adventures offers helicopter tours where visitors can see things in a completely different perspective. On a windy day, our steady pilot flew over Mount Rushmore and elaborated on the area’s beautiful surroundings.
We also flew over the Crazy Horse Memorial which has been a work in progress since 1948. If completed. it would become the largest sculpture in the world. “It took 8 years just to do the Indian’s face” says Jadwiga Ziolkowski, the CEO of the Crazy Horse Foundation. “Sometimes people are disappointed that it isn’t being finished fast enough but they may not understand how much time is involved in creating something like this.”
Once inside the Crazy Horse property – there’s a museum filed with native American artifacts and opportunities to see live performances. During our visit, a gentleman was performing “hoop dancing”. You can even walk away from your visit with a piece of rock – blasted off the mountain during the sculpture making process.
Custer State Park is one place that I often hear about from fellow travelers that rave about this part of the country. (Where it’s’s not uncommon to see Buffalo just walking across the street.) The park’s annual Buffalo Roundup event attracts thousands of guests to the park each Fall. One unique feature of Custer State Park is its IMAX theater in the visitor’s center that shows off incredible footage of the land while sharing tales of its rich history.
Recreation is a huge draw for visitors to Custer with “the great outdoors” just a few minutes outside of town. You can fish, watch birds, go camping or even take an off road adventure in an UTV to explore great views and scenery. We spent a morning with the folks from Custer UTV & Car Rental doing just that. Another family owned business in town that survives largely on tourists.
If you’re looking for a cozy home base to explore the region and finally check some of those South Dakota “bucket list” items off – look no further than the sweet town of Custer.
For more information about visiting Custer: www.visitcuster.com