Building a Legacy: Black Hills Stock Show is still growing after 60 years
In 1958, the average yearly wages were 3,851 dollars, the microchip was invented and the Black Hills Stock Show was born. Sixty years ago, the Central States Fairgrounds was surrounded by pasture, not urban Rapid City. The stock show was called the Black Hills Winter Show and it was run by the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce’s agriculture committee. The show was held in the fairground’s Soule Building, the largest building on the grounds at the time.
Dan Warren, current committee chair for the fairgrounds building and grounds committee, remembers going to the fairgrounds as a child for the stock show with its wooden grandstands and the Alfalfa Palace, and he says that it was nothing like it is today. Pictures of the old fairgrounds hang in the fair office, offering a glimpse of how far the grounds have come since the early 1960s.
“It’s completely changed, been upgraded and improved,” Warren says. “It’s really moved with the times and that’s hard, being a county entity, we’re kind of strapped for funds, but the county has been incredibly supportive of the fairgrounds and gives us maintenance money every year to update things.”
Some may think to hold any sort of show in the middle of winter in South Dakota is crazy, but the planning committee did have a method to their madness.
“It was a perfect time of year to show cattle,” says Lyndell Petersen, who has been active with the Central States Fair and the stock show since the beginning. “They picked that time of year because all the harvest was done, nobody started calving yet and nobody was planting yet, so it was a perfect time for everybody to get together and have a break.”
But holding an event in January has always come with its fair share of challenges. Poor road conditions, below freezing temperatures and short days would make for a long stock show. One year, Petersen recalls when the show was almost canceled. The Soule Building had no heat in it and it was an unusually bitter winter.
“Someone got the idea of borrowing kerosene or diesel heathers from the air base and they brought those in. So yes, you got warm, but you were almost asphyxiated by the fumes from the heaters,” Petersen says. “We endured many of those kinds of hardships in order to have the show.”
The idea rolled around in the 1970s to build an event center, but it was in the late 1990s, while Petersen was chairman of the long range planning committee, that they focused on long term improvements, “instead of just helter skelter adding buildings here and there,” Petersen says. An event center was the first step.
As Petersen and the committee were campaigning to be allowed to build the event center, the National Western Stock Show in Denver was facing a similar situation: grow it or get rid of it.
“They decided to grow it and they added an equine center,” Petersen says. “It nearly doubled the number of events they held at the National Western. That was a prediction in my mind of what would happen here if we had a facility to do so.”
The James Kjerstad Event Center was finished in 2004 and since its completion, the stock show has grown by 33 percent and, according to Central States Fair general manager, Ron Jeffries, it is what helped put them on the map.
“We’re now one of the premier entities for hosting guests to Rapid City all year long,” Jeffries says. “It also allowed us to go from operating seasonally to be year-round with full time staffing, which has tons of benefits.”
Since then, many other changes have been made around the grounds. A new stall barn, a remodeled grandstand, improvements and remodels in other older buildings, such as a new HVAC system in the Bridger Steel Building and new bathrooms.
“We were also able to put concrete in one of our quonset buildings,” John Kaiser, operations manager for central states fair says. “That may seem like a small thing, but it’s made a huge difference to us, not having to blow off the tables and chairs every time we get them out for an event.”
Even the event center has needed some updates. The HVAC system can now read the humidity in the building and open dampers to neutralize humidity so that it doesn’t reach a level where the structural integrity could potentially be compromised. The lighting, which used to be old halide lights, were dim, tedious to replace, and would change colors as they were going out, have recently been replaced with over 45,000 LED lights over the arena, 30,000 over the concrete and 18,000 over the warm up arena attached to the building, easily controlled by Kaiser’s cell phone, where he can change the lighting from a rodeo scene to a concert scene to an open riding scene, all with the push of a button.
“When we’re just in there cleaning, or doing a set up I can keep the lights at 25 percent we don’t use too much energy and the funny thing is, you’d think that’d be kind of dark, but the LED lights at 15 percent put out the same amount of light as our old metal halide lights did at 100 percent,” he says.
The fairgrounds are also in the planning phase of designing a new, multi-purpose arena that will connect to the James Kjerstad Event Center. With plans to be completed in December of 2018, the new building will open many doors for the Central States Fair and the Black Hills Stock Show.
“It will enhance our opportunity to attract large, national-type shows that are requiring more space or more stalling space, it will provide a smaller area for our local events when the big event center is already rented and some of these events we are hoping to host need a lot of covered stalling during the winter,” Jeffries says. “When we have these larger national events, there’s horses from the south coming up and if you can only stall them outdoors your ability to attract the short haired horses from the south is somewhat limited in South Dakota.”
The $1.3-million facility doesn’t signal the end of the changes surrounding the fairgrounds, it’s just another step in the direction of growth.
“Despite our facilities being rented as much as they are, we never take our foot off the gas and we never settle for what we have because we’re doing well,” Kaiser says. “We are continuing to grow and our events, especially the Black Hills Stock Show, are continuing to grow, so that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
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