A view from Lovers Leap Trail in Custer State Park, within South Dakota’s Black Hills. (Seth Tupper/SD Searchlight)
People will no longer get free entrance at South Dakota’s state parks or free fishing on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
The Legislature’s Interim Rules Review Committee signed off on a rule change from the state Game, Fish and Parks Department on Tuesday in Pierre, making final a proposal approved by the GF&P Commission early last month.
Wildlife Division Director Tom Kirschenmann told lawmakers that the free weekends, implemented in 2019, were meant to be an enticement that would convince more people to buy annual park passes and fishing licenses.
A look at the data revealed that the enticement strategy didn’t work, Kirschenmann said. Mother’s Day is often too cold and wet to draw many visitors, he said, and Father’s Day weekend comes after most people have made their decision on buying a park pass.
Another factor is the state’s open house and free fishing weekend, which comes shortly after Mother’s Day, the weekend before Memorial Day.
That day is quite popular, he said, and the agency’s rule change keeps it in place.
“It still does retain the most popular (free day), and the most sought-after opportunity that we want to provide to folks that want to come to the parks,” Kirschenmann said.
Sen. Red Dawn Foster, D-Pine Ridge, said she was concerned about removing free days that offer community benefits and asked if the GF&P could quantify their popularity.
Al Nedved, deputy state parks director, said the agency didn’t keep track of the visitors who enter the parks for free, but that the current rules put “three opportunities within the course of five weeks.” It makes sense, Nedved said, for the state to focus on its attention on the free fishing weekend that falls in-between Mother’s and Father’s Day.
The committee passed the rule unanimously, as it did with the GF&P’s remaining rule changes.
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