Custer State Park is, from a wildlife standpoint, sort of a junior Yellowstone. While much of the fauna is similar, it covers a much smaller area, making wildlife viewing here just as rewarding an experience. Home to many species, Custer is most famous for three of its residents: its private herd of just over a thousand Buffalo, its flamboyant herd of Begging Burro, and its sprawling colonies of adorable Prairie Dog.
Located in the Black Hills, Custer is part of land long disputed between native tribes and the United States government, the former of which were driven out by the latter in the late 19th century. Fortunately the South Dakota government had some sense to preserve the rich wildlife of the area and established a state park in the area in 1912. Located close to Mount Rushmore and other popular sites, Custer is by far one of the most popular wildlife reserves in the American Great Plains region.
Although threatened in the 19th and early 20th century, Custer’s wildlife has made a remarkable recovery in the last hundred years or so. The area is roamed by Deer, Elk, Mountain Goat and Bighorn Sheep. A herd of 1,500 Buffalo are carefully tended here, and many people come to see the annual roundup of these animals in late Summer. About fifty donkeys, known as the begging burros, stake out their territory on the parks roads, pressing up against cars and trolling for food handouts. Prairie Dog towns can be seen all over the park, with dozens of the creatures poking their heads up at any given time to check things out.
Custer State Park is relatively small, covering just under 300 square km, though the wildlife territory extends to the adjacent Wind Cave National Park, bringing the total up to 500 square km. It is located towards the southern end of the Black Hills, approximately forty miles from Rapid City. It is open year round. The cost of admission is $15.00 per car. Web: http://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer (official website).
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