In Full Bloom Black-eyed susan, stiff sunflower, yellow ox eye, gray-headed coneflower and lavendar-colored beebalms make the landscape around Spirit Mound north of Vermillion burst with color. by Martina Rose Lee and David Lias "I feel it to be a sacred place…a grand place because you can see for miles," park aide Ron Thaden said describing Spirit Mound, located five miles north of Vermillion.
After 19 years of perseverance and teamwork, efforts to restore Spirit Mound are nearing completion.
A wide variety of plants believed to have been flourishing on the mound two centuries ago have been reintroduced to the site through a planting process that began last year.
Spirit Mound was recently purchased by the state of South Dakota through funds made available by Congress.
This 320-acre site is managed by the S.D. Game Fish & Parks Department in partnership with the National Park Service and the Spirit Mound Trust.
The initial restoration planting was done in fall 2001. Since then, there have been several projects completed by local organizations to get new plants to take root on the mound.
The mound is home to tall grasses that grow naturally, and 46 different species of animals and plants during different seasons. There is also a half-mile walking trail along the mound and up to the summit that includes interpretive signs.
The mound became well-known when Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led their expedition through the western United States in 1804. They heard about a hill on a flat prairie inhabited by "little spirits."
Legend had it that the spirits shot arrows at any trespassers. Lewis and Clark decided to visit the hill, known as Paha Wakan to the local tribes, to investigate the mystery of the mound. The expedition did not find any little spirits but found abundant wildlife and native plants.
Clark wrote: "From the top of this mound we beheld a most butifull landscape; Numerous herds of buffalow were Seen feeding in various directions."
The Spirit Mound Trust, founded in 1986, recognized that this significant landmark was being misused, and its historical, natural and cultural significance was degraded. The founders repaired the site and raised awareness of the importance of the mound to South Dakota.
"To turn it into a great prairie � that's the objective," said Jim Heisinger, president of the Spirit Mound Trust.
Spirit Mound is one of the last places documented as a place where Lewis and Clark stood.
"So many of the places where they visited and camped have been destroyed and changed," said Thaden.
Preservationists said they want to be sensitive to Native American customs as they restore the mound.
"We'll do anything we can to make it Native American," Heisinger said. "It belongs to them."
Grasses that have been planted on the mound include big and little bluestem, Canada wild rye, Indiangrass, switchgrass and porcupine grass.
Broadleaf plants include silver sage, butterfly milkweed, stiff sunflower, smooth blue aster, purple coneflower, yellow ox-eye, roundheaded bushclover, black-eyed susan, compass plant and ironweed.
"This year, especially, it has really been outstanding for color," Thaden said. "And lots of people have been visiting and really have remarked about that, too."
Thaden carries out a variety of tasks in his role as aide at the park.
"Earlier we were doing some seeding, and there's always some weeds to clip or spray," he said. "If weeds need to be cut, I'll do that. If there's a larger area where there's an extensive amount of weeds, we'll take a tractor mower and clip them over.
"The spraying that we do out there is mainly for noxious weeds," Thaden said. "We don't do any other spraying, otherwise that would knock out all the broadleaf plants."
Martina Rose Lee, Navajo, was a student in the Freedom Forum's American Indian Journalism Institute held in June on the campus of USD. Lee attends Mesa Community College.