RAPID CITY — After more than a decade of work between the city and preservation proponents, 150 acres of undeveloped land along Skyline Drive is close to being turned over to the city for permanent preservation as park land and open space.|
“We’re ecstatic right now,” said Chuck Tinant, president of Skyline Drive Preservation Inc., a nonprofit group that has been working for several years to preserve the land as natural open space for walking, mountain biking and general enjoyment.
Named the Skyline Wilderness Area, the 150 acres is an undeveloped tract of land along the ridge top dividing central Rapid City from West Rapid. The preservation group wants to turn the land over to the city, but details of a conservation easement must be worked out first. A conservation easement is generally designed to ensure that the land will remain in its natural state. The document includes language that establishes what the conservation values are, and the use of the property must be consistent with those values.
City attorney Jason Green said he has concerns about some language in the document and is working with the Skyline group to address them. He declined to specify what the problems were but said that in general, the terms of the conservation easement impose greater burdens on the city than normal, and there are some areas he would like to see addressed. “If we were just acquiring this property for park purposes, normally, I would be very concerned with some of the proposed conditions, but this is a special case,” Green said. However, Green believes that his office will have an agreement for the city council to review this year.
Tinant said the conservation easement will help protect the area and keep it pristine. Though today’s city officials support the preservation effort, future boards may have a different attitude. “It’s kind of a balancing act to make sure it works for the city, and it works for us also,” Tinant said. “But both of us are of the same mind. We do want to preserve it for future generations and keep it like it is so people can enjoy it.” The city and the preservation group are not at an impasse, Tinant said. There are “a few little things” that can be reworded so that everyone is happy, he said. After the easement issue is worked out, the land would be turned over to the city and become part of the city park system.
Mayor Jim Shaw, who has been a part of the preservation discussion since before he became mayor, said turning the land over to the city as parkland would be the most stable long-term solution to preserve the area’s integrity. “If it’s a public park, it takes a public vote to ever change the use,” Shaw said. “Frankly, I don’t see that ever happening.” Combined with the city’s recent acquisition of 40 acres of property on M Hill to the north, the addition of the Skyline property would create a tremendous swath of natural area through the heart of the city, Shaw said. “This is our chance to have a Central Park, if you will, for Rapid City. I think most people would agree that it’s a good thing for the community,” Shaw said. “When you’re up there … it’s almost like being in an obscure place in the Hills, yet it’s right in the center of town.”
Tinant agreed. “We’re lucky we have a forward-thinking, future-thinking council in place that would accept our land and then negotiate M Hill, because there aren’t many cities in the United States that can boast that we’ve got this much green space for our citizens to enjoy,” he said. Although the city would designate the land as a park, it wouldn’t have manicured lawns or lush landscaping as other, more traditional city parks do, Shaw said. The property would remain essentially as it is.
About $2.3 million has been raised over the past decade toward the preservation effort. The city contributed $737,000 in 2012 funds earlier this year to pay off the mortgage on the property. As a condition of receiving the money, the preservation group raised private funds to pay for back taxes and mortgage interest late last year. However, Tinant said, the group still must raise about $30,000 to pay for remaining real-estate taxes before the property can be turned over to the city, and the transaction would need to occur before the start of the new year so additional property taxes don’t start accruing.
“This has been a long endeavor,” Tinant said. “The Skyline Drive Preservation board is ecstatic that we’re this close and that we’re able to gift to the city a piece of the Black Hills that happens to reside right here in our city.” Tinant said the current preservation board — Roger Heacock, Carol Brown, Bill Kessloff, and Erika and Robb Campbell — has done a tremendous amount of work in the past year to bring the effort close to completion. But he said it could not have been done without donations over the years from “very wonderful people” that allowed the effort to continue. He said donations have ranged from large gifts of hundreds of thousands of dollars to a dollar sent by a boy in a letter. “We couldn’t have done it without the help of all the people,” he said.
RAPID CITY -- Applause broke out Tuesday night after the city accepted 150 acres of undeveloped land along the Skyline Drive ridgeline for the princely sum of $1, marking the end of more than a decade of work.
"This is a great day for Rapid City in the sense that we're able to preserve this as a public park, as a public open space, natural wilderness area forevermore," Mayor Jim Shaw said.
Individuals, groups and city officials have been working for many years to acquire and preserve 150 acres of land as natural open space for walking, mountain biking and general enjoyment.
Roger Heacock, a board member of Skyline Drive Preservation, Inc., a nonprofit group that has been working for several years to preserve the property in order to turn it over to the city, said the group was excited to finally see the effort come to fruition.
"This could not have happened without the contributions of many, many donors of both property and cash, and the support of a lot of people. It wouldn't have happened without all the support," Heacock said.
For the past few weeks, the preservation group and the city wrangled over the terms of a conservation easement, an agreement that says how the property would be preserved and designed as a more formal means to ensure that the land would remain in its natural state.
The Skyline group had wanted the easement as an added assurance, but in the end, the terms could not be worked out. So, the preservation group offered a quit-claim deed to the city.
City attorney Jason Green said the quit claim is a common mechanism that allows property to be transferred quickly.
"There are a number of kinds of deeds. There's a general warranty deed, a special warranty deed and a quit-claim deed," he said. "Quit claim just says, 'Whatever I got, you got. I'm not making any other promises.'"
Green said the agreement requires the city to keep the land as open space for public use.
Skyline board members indicated that the group is satisfied with the quit claim.
"We're satisfied that what we've agreed upon is going to be good," Bill Kessloff said. "It satisfies the intent of our board, our donors and the community and that's to preserve it in a natural state in perpetuity."
Alderman Karen Gunderson Olson was delighted that an agreement had been reached and said creating a place of beauty within the center of the city speaks well of Rapid City and its citizens.
"This is an excellent step forward and something that will benefit our community," she said.
Olson said that the contribution of the many people who donated to the effort throughout the years should not go unrecognized.
"I would urge our community to say thank you to those individuals who have contributed in a lot of different ways. I'm not going to list them all because there's quite a lot of them, but they are a part of this wonderful gift to the community," she said.
Shaw also praised the efforts of the Skyline preservation group.
"They've done an outstanding job bringing this to fruition," he said.
Shaw also referred to an old Rapid City land use plan prepared shortly after World War II that included a suggestion that the city should acquire the Skyline property.
"At that time, this area of Skyline Drive was not in the city limits," he said. "The consultants way back then said it would be a good idea for the city to acquire this ridgeline and preserve it as open space."
About $2.3 million was raised throughout the years to buy the land and preserve it, including a contribution of $737,000 last year from the city's Vision 2012 fund that was used to pay off the mortgage on the property.
Before the land is turned over to the city, approximately $20,000 in back taxes must be paid. Heacock said the group has received pledges to cover that amount, but additional donations would be welcome because they could be used to enhance interpretive displays and signs.
Donations may be sent to Skyline Drive Preservation, Inc.; P.O. Box 1420; Rapid City, SD 57709.
Contact Scott Aust at 394-8415, or firstname.lastname@example.org