South Dakota opens new horse camp park near Hot Springs

Farm Forum

HOT SPRINGS (AP) — Angostura Recreation Area is a secret long since let out of the bag, as each year the state park at the southern gateway of the Black Hills draws thousands of people to its sandy shores for beach time, camping, water sports and fishing.

Since the dam and reservoir’s creation in 1949, the majority of the lake’s popular use has centered on its northern and eastern shoreline with its marina and resort, four different campgrounds and miles of developed sandy beaches.

But a little secret is located on the western shore.

The Sheps Canyon area — accessible from the north through Hot Springs and then seven miles south on South Dakota Highway 71 (Cascade Road) and six miles east on County Highway 71A — is shaping up to be yet another draw with the recent development of a horse camp and 5.1-mile multi-use trail system.

Horse camps are found in 10 state park areas across South Dakota. Often found near a trailhead, these camps offer horseback riders a place to bed down with their horses after a day of riding. The only other horse camp options available in the West River area are in Custer State Park.

Angostura Recreation Area Park Supervisor Willy Collignon said the state Game, Fish & Parks Department started the Sheps Canyon Project two years ago.

The first phase of the project was the development of a new Sheps Canyon Campground, which opened in July 2012 and features 22 electrical campsites near the existing Sheps Canyon boat ramp on the west side of the lake. Last year, on Memorial Day weekend, the park opened the new Sheps Canyon Lodge which is available for year-round rental and overlooks Angostura Reservoir with four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a bunkhouse.

The latest phase is the Sheps Canyon Horse Camp, which opened on April 1 and features 11 non-electrical campsites, each with a fire ring, picnic table and 20-foot-by-20-foot steel corral.

The horse camp, which works like any of the park’s other four campgrounds and is available for year-round reservation online or by phone, is connected to a 5.1-mile natural-terrain trail system that follows the western shoreline where Cheyenne River empties into the reservoir. The trail system meanders through Game and Fish park property, as well as the state’s Game Production Area, while also providing access to thousands of acres of National Forest Service lands.

As a non-motorized, multi-use trail system, both hikers and bicyclists are also permitted to use the trail while yielding to the equestrian travelers. Horses and bicyclists however are required to stay on the determined trail route while on state-owned property, but hikers have the freedom to explore by foot all of the more than 5,000 acres of public land in the area.

Collignon said the recent development of the Sheps Canyon area at Angostura helps to fulfill the state’s objective to provide “diverse recreational opportunities” to the public.

Prior to the last two year’s development, all of the Sheps Canyon area was considered free Lakeside Use Area with free camping and access to the lake. While much of the area is still designated as Free Lakeside Use, Collignon said the new paid campgrounds are designed to play the role of “middle ground” between the completely developed and completely undeveloped.

“They are maintained and staffed to be family-friendly, but not as highly developed compared to what is found on the east side,” he said. Collignon added that while camping fees are collected in the two new Sheps Canyon campgrounds, there is still plenty of free access and some limited free camping in other designated areas.

Despite the Sheps Canyon Horse Camp being open for just over one month, Collignon said he has been somewhat disappointed overall with the use of the Westside’s two other developed features — the Sheps Canyon Campground and Sheps Canyon Lodge — since those first opened up respectively in 2012 and 2013. He said last year the lodge was rented out just 43 nights, but added it is already reserved for 50 nights this coming year.

While use of Angostura’s Eastside amenities are typically considered summertime activities, Collignon said the use of the Westside lends itself to more year-round activities including deer, pheasant and turkey hunting. He added that the area is considered a prime waterfowl hunting location, but up to this point has been largely “untouched” by sportsmen outside of the immediate area.

Local support of the Game, Fish & Parks’ efforts in Sheps Canyon by the community of Hot Springs is key to its success, Collignon said, as users from the north must now travel through Hot Springs to gain access to the new amenities on the west side of the lake.

Hot Springs Area Chamber of Commerce Director Scott Haden said his organization is on board with the improvements being made.

“We see the potential of a lot of things happening with the addition of the Horse Camp and other expanded services in Sheps Canyon that can only benefit Hot Springs,” Haden said. “We know that the people coming in to take advantage of these new features will require goods and services that our community is more than happy to provide.”

Haden added that the Chamber and the town’s Business Improvement District have made a point of including Angostura Recreation Area in tourism advertising, whenever possible.