Spirit Mound purchase celebrated

Spirit Mound purchase celebrated Sen. Tim Johnson returned to his home town of Vermillion to address a crowd of over 100 people who gathered on Spirit Mound Sunday for a formal dedication ceremony. Spirit Mound has been purchased by the National Parks Service, and other state and local funds have been earmarked to restore the property. by David Lias Sen. Tim Johnson, whose family homesteaded near Spirit Mound, remembers climbing the historic site as a young boy.

Back then, he may not have been fully aware of the steep hill's historic significance.

"But it seemed to me that one of the most significant sites in the state of South Dakota was not being used to its optimal best," Johnson said, addressing a crowd of over 100 people who gathered near the top of the mound for formal dedication ceremonies Sunday afternoon. "Now, thanks to the coming together of so many groups, we have this opportunity, and now reality, of preserving Spirit Mound and the immediate region around in a historically accurate way."

Recent purchase of the site, with plans to restore it and surrounding property to its original state, were recently approved, bringing about Sunday's celebration.

In 1998, Johnson said Congress reorganized funds and added them to the National Parks Service budget for the sole purpose of purchasing the Spirit Mound site. This amount totaled $600,000, but trust officials knew that amount would not be enough for the restoration.

Through combined efforts of Johnson's office and Gov. Bill Janklow's office, as well as other officials, a project plan was approved.

In April 2001, the land purchase was completed; shortly thereafter, Janklow announced the approval of $348,400 devoted to staff and restoration plans.

The Spirit Mound Trust has also raised money from other groups, including the city of Vermillion, Clay County, the Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce, and other national service departments.

According to the Spirit Mound Trust group, the final price of the restoration project could reach $1.5 million.

Under the revitalization plan, the site � to be known as the Spirit Mound Historic Prairie � will be cleared of some trees and buildings, the road currently leading onto the property will be taken out, and the bean fields will be plowed under this fall and native grasses will be planted.

A parking lot will be built on the southeast corner of the section. From there, a long walking trail will take visitors to the top of the mound; it will emulate the same direction from which Lewis and Clark traveled to the site.

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In August 1804, Lewis and Clark stopped near present day Vermillion. They walk nearly nine miles in sweltering heat to Spirit Mound, a place that native people thought was inhabited by tiny devils.

The two explorers found an abundance of birds, wild game, and native foliage at Spirit Mound, and were treated to a breathtaking view. According to their journals, they saw great herds of buffalo, the Missouri River valley, and even portions of what is now Iowa and Nebraska.

It was apparent to the people who climbed Spirit Mound Sunday that some significant, positive changes have already occurred there.

Gone is a feedlot on the mound's east side. Gone, too, are the cattle that would often graze on the top of the hill.

Wooden and wire fencing has been removed from the lower perimeter of the mound, making access to the top easier. A narrow trail has been cut through the high grass, making the hike up the steep hillside a bit easier.

While the view from the top of Spirit Mound lacks the giant herds of buffalo and endless undisturbed prairie witnessed by Lewis and Clark, anyone who makes the climb to the peak of the mound may witness a panoramic, breathtaking view of the countryside.

Johnson said the nation must recognize the site as being of profound significance to the native culture on the South Dakota prairie.

"It is doubly important as we go on now with the restoration of this mound to its natural appearance, as tall grass prairie, that we remove the signs of human habitation from all around this half-section of land," he said. "This land must be preserved always with great sensitivity to the meaning this has for both the historic issues for our nation and for the native cultures who equally view this site as a very significant place."

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