By Emily Oyos
South Dakota has a rich history of people inhabiting the Plains region dating back thousands of years. Native Americans first lived on this land, followed by the pioneers and settlers of the 1800s and early 1900s. Today, many of these beautiful landscapes made up of rolling grasslands and roaring rivers have been converted into housing developments and shopping malls.
However, there are still some places where one can return to nature and view the Plains as they may have looked hundreds of years ago. In the Sioux Falls region alone, there are three places I enjoy visiting to learn about the history of this area: Big Sioux Recreation Area, Beaver Creek Nature Area, and Good Earth State Park at Blood Run.
Big Sioux Recreation Area offers a variety of hiking and biking trails that lead into forested woodlands and up to the top of a hill that overlooks Native prairie forbs. If you look closely during the springtime, you may even find South Dakota’s state flower, the Pasque, hidden between the grasses. In the 1860s the land where the park is now located was home to Ole Bergeson. For those interested in learning more about his homestead, Bergeson’s cabin is still located along the main road in the park.
Beaver Creek Nature Area is also home to hundreds of trees, acres of prairie grasses, and the Samuelson cabin. One of my favorite events held at the nature area, Homesteader Day, occurs every year in early September. At this event, the cabin is open for tours, there is live music, horse-drawn farming equipment, candle-dipping, food demonstrations, and much more. Beaver Creek is a wonderful area to explore and experience what life was like for early settlers on the Plains.
South Dakota’s newest State Park, Good Earth at Blood Run, features miles of walking trails, a state-of-the-art interpretive center, and a variety of scenic overviews. The Oneota Tradition Peoples lived on and cultivated the land from 1300-1700 A.D. This sacred area was a major trading center for Native American people due to the abundance of flood plains, wildlife, and pipestone. Whenever I visit Good Earth, my favorite stops along the path are the scenic overlooks.
Today, all you can see is farmland, trees, and the winding Big Sioux River. However, I love to imagine what the fertile flood plain looked like hundreds of years ago when it was teeming with people harvesting food, trading, and going about daily life in their earth lodges. Good Earth State Park is a great place where one can connect with nature while learning about the Native people who once inhabited the land.
These are only three of many areas around the state where one can experience history and nature coming together in beautiful harmony. So stop staring at your phone, get off the couch, out of the air conditioning, and come explore everything the parks have to offer!