Potential Changes to a Popular Camping Area in South Dakota’s Buffalo Gap Grasslands

Apr 25, 2022 | Conservation, News

Potential Changes to a Popular Camping Area in South Dakota’s Buffalo Gap Grasslands

By Alex Murphy

The Buffalo Gap National Grasslands is a popular destination among Campendium users, especially RVers traveling across the country. The South Dakota area has appeared in movies like Nomadland and continues to grow in popularity despite being located in a remote region. 

But with an increase in popularity comes new land management and protection problems. The most recent issues are focused on an area called the Pinnacles, also known as Rimrock Pastures. Officials are now working on plans to best protect both the land and the public’s interest by asking for feedback. 

An RV blown off the side of a bluff at the Pinnacles in South Dakota
A trailer that blew off the wall edge at Pinnacles in July 2019. | Photo courtesy Buffalo Gap Grasslands

“Most of what spurred this project to make changes was increased use,” says Alex Grant, district ranger for the Wall Ranger District. “We’re also taking into account the local resources, the range, and cattle management, in addition to recreation.”

Grant works outside Wall, South Dakota, and has seen the area change and grow in popularity with more people living remotely and in their vans. As he said last year, there are also concerns in other areas of Buffalo Gap with people driving off pathways, damaging the protected grasslands, and not closing gates, which allows cattle on the property to escape. Many of these issues continue in the Pinnacles area, along with an increased fear of wildfires.

Cattle roaming at Nomad View Dispersed Camping in Buffalo Gap Grasslands
Roaming cattle at Nomad View Dispersed Camping at Buffalo Gap Grasslands in South Dakota. | Photo by: Blaise

The most recent growth spurred Grant and other public officials to call for a public meeting to navigate how to move forward. Now they’re looking over the comments on what changes to make, but the plan is still undecided. 

“The reason we held the public meeting was to hear their concerns, what people were and weren’t worried about, so as we go through the decision process we have all of the available information,” says Grant. 

Next up, the land managers will weigh their options with the public comments in mind. Once decisions are made, Buffalo Gap will release the plan for another feedback session, allowing additional public comment. The process is expected to take time and as of now, there are still a lot of questions about possible changes. 

Grasslands on a bluff where RVers camp in South Dakota.
Nomad View Dispersed Camping at Buffalo Gap Grasslands in South Dakota. | Photo by: 1st Class RV Adventures

Grant says feedback has been generally positive, but he wants to remind the interested public that their voice matters, and if they want a say, they need to share their thoughts.

“The biggest thing is to be involved,” says Grant. “I challenge people if they see a problem to suggest a solution.”

Grant says the project will be updated on its website, and public comment will reopen once the Wall Ranger District shares possible solutions. Officials are also live-streaming public meetings on the website, so anyone else with an interest can be involved.

 In the meantime, the area remains open to the public, but visitors need to be mindful of how they recreate and camp in the area. It’s important to follow Leave No Trace principles and fire safety guidelines in order to minimize wildfire concerns. This means not leaving fires unattended and making sure that fires are completely extinguished before leaving. Simple steps like following the rules and staying on the existing roads can help preserve the area for years to come.