Park expansion threatened

  A ranch that promised to be an important addition to Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills is now for sale on the open market. The 5,555-acre Casey Ranch would increase the park’s land base by 20 percent, and add an 85-year-old homestead and a “buffalo jump” — a cliff from which American Indian hunters chased bison 1,000 years ago.

In 2000, the Casey family offered to sell the ranch to the Park Service after chronic wasting disease destroyed their elk herd, and the market for bison plunged. The parties reached a tentative deal, but for the last two years, a bill authorizing the Park Service to buy the ranch has waited for approval from Congress. This October, the family began advertising the ranch.

“(The Wind Cave deal) is moving fairly slow,” says Kevin Casey, a managing partner in his family’s ranch, “so we thought we’d try other avenues.”

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., is confident that the bill will pass this year, but now it must race a wave of newcomers, who are escaping cities in the Midwest and buying land in the Black Hills.

Tom Farrell, Wind Cave’s chief of interpretation, says legislators estimated that the government would pay $5 to $6 million for the ranch. The market price tag is now $13.5 million. “At that price,” Farrell says, “you know it’s going to be developed.”