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Famed Buffalo Chip Campground Moving?

August 12, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

The decision last year by South Dakota’s Meade County commissioners not to pursue building a truck route around Sturgis means the Buffalo Chip campground may have to move, owner Rod Woodruff said.

The campground and concert venue will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, and even at 64 years old, Woodruff isn’t ready to retire. But if business is going to keep growing, Woodruff said, it’s going to need to be somewhere else, the Rapid City Journal reported.

“Where I’m at now with the Buffalo Chip is I really can’t continue to grow much here, because I’m in a bad location. I have to have a different location. I don’t have a road to get people here. My business has been choked.”

The campground venue is east of Sturgis past where Highway 34 turns northeast. Bikers coming there to camp or take in a concert like Bob Dylan’s on Tuesday night have to navigate stop-and-go traffic as they head past three other venues: the Full Throttle Saloon, the Glencoe CampResort and the newer Monkey Rock.

The Buffalo Chip website warns campers about the traffic and recommends alternate routes like side streets and gravel country roads. But without going miles out of their way, bikers coming from the east, south or west have no other highway from which to access the venue.

The Meade County Commission in February defeated a plan to extend and possibly widen 131st Street between Highway 79 and Interstate 90’s Exit 37, Pleasant Valley Road.

The commission heard concerns not only from downtown Sturgis business owners, worried that a bypass would hurt their shops, but also from county residents, who said a road to help a few campgrounds shouldn’t be a priority over the cost of maintaining existing county roads. They were also concerned about the impact of development to the rural area.

Commission Chairman Robert Mallow said he initially favored the bypass, but changed his mind when he weighed the cost against other county needs.

“I agree with (Woodruff),” Mallow said. “It is a bottleneck out there with four campgrounds.”

He said the county has tried to work with the campgrounds to move traffic more efficiently. The campgrounds contributed financially to widening Highway 34 to four lanes several years ago.

Mallow said the bypass would help more than just the campgrounds. It would help ranchers and truckers from Butte County and north access I-90 more quickly.

The issue isn’t closed off from future discussion, but Mallow said there are no immediate plans to revisit it.

The idea of a bypass or truck route around Sturgis has been debated for decades, Department of Transportation region engineer Todd Seaman said.

“I personally went to meetings 20 years ago” on the topic, he said.

He doesn’t foresee the road being built any time soon. The priority right now for state transportation funds is to maintain existing roads.

Even if the county and campground owners came up with the $11 million to $12 million it would take to build the two-lane truck route, Seaman said, it would still take around five years to complete the planning process.

“That’s a lot of money to spend where the greatest benefit would be during the rally,” though Seaman agreed there would be other benefits such as faster emergency response and better transportation for truckers and ranchers.

In the meantime, the Department of Transportation works to ease the bottleneck by installing temporary traffic signals that are manually adjusted as needed to maximize traffic flow.

A bigger problem is moving traffic through downtown Sturgis, said Dan Staton, department access management engineer.

He said the department observed traffic on Highway 34 this week and found that even with the addition of the Rock ‘N Rev Festival at Monkey Rock, a newer venue, traffic was able to move through as the campgrounds filled their parking lots efficiently.

“The new entertainment at this point in time has not hampered the normal flow of things,” Staton said. “To my observation, things have gone reasonably smooth.”

He said it didn’t appear the Full Throttle or Buffalo Chip had problems filling their parking lots with concert-goers, partially because they have encouraged guests to arrive early.

Woodruff didn’t say if he was actively looking to sell the current Buffalo Chip property or buy property elsewhere. The growth opportunity available when he took over the Chip in the early 1980s doesn’t exist today at his current location, he said.

“This business is really just getting started. We could grow into a very big deal, I believe, over the next decade. (But) we can’t, politically, get infrastructure here to warrant that investment. It’s as good as it’s probably going to get here.”

Woodruff did say he wants to stay in the Hills, connected to the rally.

“What we have built with all the folks who come here is, we are a destination resort for the western South Dakota tourism industry. I need to be in western South Dakota, somewhere where there are wide open spaces somewhere in the Black Hills.”

Woodruff said he doesn’t want to grow by opening a second Chip location, whether it would be a bar or other type of venue, in South Dakota or, say, Las Vegas.

“I get requests all the time to go other places and lend my name to other things,” he said. “There can only be one Buffalo Chip.”

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