Rapid City

 

 

Rapid City is the second-largest city in the State of South Dakota, and the county seat of Pennington County.[6] Named after Rapid Creek on which the city is established, it is set against the eastern slope of the Black Hills mountain range. The town is called Fast Water Mni Luzahan by the American Indian, Lakota Sioux people who have inhabited the lands long before Western Culture came into the area. This majority of the homeless and those living below the poverty line are American Indians, the Lakota people in Rapid City and the surrounding areas. The population was 67,956 as of the 2010 Census.[7] Rapid City is known as the “Gateway to the Black Hills” and the “City of Presidents”. The city is divided by a mountain range that splits the western and eastern parts of the city into two. Ellsworth Air Force Base located on the outskirts of the city. United States Army National Guard, Camp Rapid is located in West Rapid. In the nearby towns are Custer alongside Custer State Park, the Historic old west town of Deadwood is nearby. In the hills nearby Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial are located.

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Panoramic view of Sixth and Main Streets in Rapid City, ca. 1912

The public discovery of gold in 1874 by the Custer Expedition brought a mass influx of settlers into the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Rapid City was founded (and originally known as “Hay Camp”) in 1876 by a group of disappointed miners, who promoted their new city as the “Gateway to the Black Hills.” John Brennan and Samuel Scott, with a small group of men, laid out the site of the present Rapid City in February 1876, which was named for the spring-fed Rapid Creek that flows through it. A square mile was measured off and the six blocks in the center were designated as a business section. Committees were appointed to bring in prospective merchants and their families to locate in the new settlement. The city soon began selling supplies to miners and pioneers. Its location on the edge of the Plains and Hills and its large river valley made it the natural hub of railroads arriving in the late 1880s from both the south and east. By 1900, Rapid City had survived a boom and bust and was establishing itself as an important regional trade center for the upper midwest.

Although the Black Hills became a popular tourist destination in the late 1890s, it was a combination of local efforts, the popularity of the automobile, and construction of improved highways that brought tourists to the Black Hills in large numbers after World War I. Gutzon Borglum, already a famous sculptor, began work on Mount Rushmore in 1927 and his son, Lincoln Borglum, continued the carving of the presidents’ faces in rock following his father’s death in 1941. The work was halted due to pressures leading to the US entry into World War II and the massive sculpture was declared complete in 1941. Although tourism sustained the city throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s, the gasoline rationing of World War II had a devastating effect on the tourist industry in the town, but this was more than made up for by the war-related growth.

The city benefited greatly from the opening of Rapid City Army Air Base, later Ellsworth Air Force Base, an Army Air Corps training base. As a result, the population of the area nearly doubled between 1940 and 1948, from almost 14,000 to nearly 27,000 people. Military families and civilian personnel soon took every available living space in town, and mobile parks proliferated. Rapid City businesses profited from the military payroll. During the Cold War, missile installations proliferated in the area: a series of Nike Air Defense sites were constructed around Ellsworth in the 1950s. In the early 60s the construction of three Titan (rocket family) missile launch sites containing a total of nine Titan I missiles in the general vicinity of Rapid City took place. Beginning in November 1963, the land for a hundred miles east, northeast and northwest of the city was dotted with 150 Minuteman missile silos and 15 launch command centers, all of which were deactivated in the early 1990s.[8]

In 1949, city officials envisioned the city as a retail and wholesale trade center for the region and designed a plan for growth that focused on a civic center, more downtown parking places, new schools, and paved streets. A construction boom continued into the 1950s. Growth slowed in the 1960s, but the worst natural disaster in South Dakota history, the Black Hills Flood led to another building boom a decade later. On June 9, 1972, heavy rains caused massive flooding of the Rapid Creek. More than 250 people lost their lives and more than $100 million in property was destroyed.

Debris along Rapid Creek after 1972 flood.

The devastation of the flood and the outpouring of private donations and millions of dollars in federal aid led to the completion of one big part of the 1979 plan: clearing the area along the Rapid Creek and making it a public park. New homes and businesses were constructed to replace those that had been destroyed. Rushmore Plaza Civic Center and a new Central High School were built in part of the area that had been cleared. The new Central High School opened in 1978, with the graduating class in that year straddling both the original Central (housed in what is now Dakota Middle School) and the new Central. The rebuilding in part insulated Rapid City from the drop in automotive tourism caused by the Oil Embargo in 1974, but tourism was depressed for most of a decade. In 1978, Rushmore Mall was built on the north edge of the city, adding to the city’s position as a retail shopping center.

In 1980 in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the government of the United States had illegally stolen the Black Hills from the Sioux people when the government unilaterally broke the treaty that guaranteed the Black Hills belonged to the Sioux. The court decision offered money, but the Sioux declined on principle that the theft of their land should not be validated, and still demand the return of the land.[9] This land includes Rapid City, which is by far the largest modern settlement in the Black Hills. As of 2010, the dispute has not been settled.

In the 1980s, growth was fueled by an increase in tourism, increasingly tied to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, followed by another decline in the late 1990s. Fears for the closure of Ellsworth AFB as part of the massive base closure process in the 1990s and 2000s led to attempts to expand other sectors of the economy, but growth continued and the city expanded significantly during this period.

Today, Rapid City is South Dakota’s primary city for tourism and recreation. With the approval of a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory at the Homestake Mine site in nearby Lead, Rapid City has a future of great advancements in technologymedicine, and scientific research.

1972 Rapid Creek Flood[edit]

Main article: Black Hills flood

Cars jumbled together by the 1972 flood.

On June 9–10, 1972, extremely heavy rains over the eastern Black Hills of South Dakota produced record floods on Rapid Creek and other streams in the area. Nearly 15 inches (380 mm) of rain fell in about 6 hours near Nemo, and more than 10 inches (250 mm) of rain fell over an area of 60 square miles (160 km2). According to the Red Cross, the resulting peak floods (which occurred after dark) left 238 people dead and 3,057 people injured.[10] In addition to the human tragedy, total damage was estimated in excess of $160 million (about $821 million in 2009 dollars), which included 1,335 homes and 5,000 automobiles that were destroyed. Runoff from this storm produced record floods (highest peak flows recorded) along Battle, Spring, Rapid, and Box Elder Creeks. Smaller floods also occurred along Elk Creek andBear Butte Creek. Canyon Lake Dam, on the west side of Rapid City, broke the night of the flood, unleashing a wall of water down the creek. The 1972 flooding has an estimated recurrence interval of 500 years,[11] which means that a flood of this magnitude will occur on average once every 500 years. Every year there is a 0.2 percent chance (1 in 500) of experiencing a similar event. To prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future, the city’s flood plain is no longer allowed to be built upon. Today the flood plain features golf courses, parks, sports arenas, and arboretums where neighborhoods and businesses once stood.

In 2007, the Rapid City Public Library created a 1972 Flood digital archive that collects survivors’ stories, photos and news accounts of the flood. The Journey Museum has an interactive display on the 1972 flood which is an ongoing project to give future generations the best idea of how the people were affected and the changes made to it because of the loss of 238 lives. It will in the future include the biographies of all of those who died so they will be remembered as more than names on a memorial.

Geography

Rapid City is located at 44.076188°N 103.228299°W. The downtown elevation of Rapid City is 3,202 feet (976 m) and Rapid City sits in the shadow of Harney Peak; which at 7,242 feet (2,207 m), is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 55.49 square miles (143.71 km2), of which, 55.41 square miles (143.5 km2) of it is land and 0.08 square miles (0.2 km2) is water.[12]

Rapid City is located on the eastern edge of the Black Hills, and is split in half by the Dakota Hogback. Rapid City’s “Westside” is located in the Red Valley between the foothills of the Black Hills proper and the Dakota Hogback, so named for the red Spearfish formation soils and the way the valley completely circles the Black Hills. Rapid City has grown up into the foothills, with both ridges and valleys developed, especially in the last 20 years, and wildfire is a distinct threat to these residential areas, as shown by the Westberry Trails fire in 1988.

Skyline Drive follows the summits of the Dakota Hogback south from near Rapid Gap (where Rapid Creek cuts through the Hogback) to a large high plateau which forms the current south edge of Rapid City. The Central and Eastern portions of Rapid City lie in the wide valley of Rapid Creek outside the Hogback, which includes a number of mesas rising a hundred feet or more above the floodplain.

Rapid Creek

Rapid Creek flows through Rapid City, emerging from Dark Canyon above Canyon Lake and flowing in a large arc north of Downtown. Rapid Creek descends to the southeast as the valley widens. The floodplain of Rapid Creek is mostly a series of parks, arboretums, and bike trails, one legacy of the Black Hills Flood of 1972. To the north, a series of ridges separates Rapid Creek from Box Elder Creek, with large older and new residential areas and commercial areas along I-90. To the south, the terrain rises more steeply to the southern widening of the Dakota Hogback into a plateau dividing the Rapid Creek drainage from Spring Creek.

Climate

View of southern Rapid City from the east after a rainstorm, including a view ofHarney Peak and the Black Hills.

Rapid City features a steppe climate (Köppen BSk). Its location makes its climate unlike both the higher elevations of the Black Hills and the Great Plains to the east. It is characterized by long arid summers and long dry winters, with short but distinct spring and autumn seasons.

Winters are cold and dry, with December, with a daily average temperature of 24.9 °F (−3.9 °C), being the coldest month in recent years; however,Chinook winds can warm temperatures above 50 °F (10 °C), doing so on average about 20 times from December to February.[13] Temperature inversions, however, occasionally produce warmer temperatures in the Black Hills. The low temperature reaches 0 °F (−17.8 °C) on an average 16 nights.[13] Snowfall is frequent but usually not heavy; March and April are typically the snowiest months, and the seasonal total averages 41 inches (104 cm).[13] Extensive snow cover does not remain for long, with only 9 days per year of 5 inches (13 cm) or more on the ground.[13]

Compared to locations in the east, spring warms rather gradually, with snow activity generally ceasing by May and precipitation totals beginning to increase. In the latter half of spring, storms typically develop over the Black Hills during the afternoon and move onto the plains in the evening. However, Rapid City still sees an average of 20 clear to partly cloudy days and 65 percent of its possible sunshine in June.[14] This is the traditional “flood” season for Rapid and other creeks in the Eastern Hills. Temperatures warm rapidly as summer approaches.

Summer in Rapid City is hot, relatively dry, and sunny. July is the warmest month of the year, having a daily average temperature of 72.6 °F (22.6 °C). There is an average of 31 days with 90 °F (32 °C)+ highs and 4.5 with 100 °F (38 °C)+ highs.[13] Due to the elevation and aridity, lows rarely remain at or above 70 °F (21 °C) and during summer occasionally lower to 50 °F (10 °C). Rapid City records an average of 9 thunderstorm days in August,[14] but only 1.56 inches (40 mm) of rain in that month.

Fall is a precipitous transition season, with the average first freeze in Rapid City is October 4 and late August through September in the Black Hills. The Rapid City area’s first snowfall is usually in October, although higher elevations sometimes receive significant snow in September. Occasional cold fronts moving through the area bring blustery northwest winds.

Sunshine is abundant in the region, averaging 2850 hours, 65% of the possible total, per year.[15]

Rapid City holds a record for an extreme temperature drop of 47 °F (26 °C) in 5 minutes on January 10, 1911.[16] Extremes also range from −31 °F (−35 °C) on February 2, 1996 up to 111 °F(44 °C) on July 15, 2006.[17]

 

[hide]Climate data for Rapid City, South Dakota (Rapid City Regional Airport), 1981−2010 normals
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 76
(24)
75
(24)
83
(28)
93
(34)
98
(37)
109
(43)
111
(44)
107
(42)
104
(40)
96
(36)
83
(28)
75
(24)
111
(44)
Average high °F (°C) 37.1
(2.8)
39.6
(4.2)
47.9
(8.8)
58.3
(14.6)
67.8
(19.9)
77.8
(25.4)
87.1
(30.6)
86.4
(30.2)
75.6
(24.2)
61.4
(16.3)
47.0
(8.3)
36.9
(2.7)
60.4
(15.8)
Average low °F (°C) 12.9
(−10.6)
15.1
(−9.4)
22.9
(−5.1)
31.8
(−0.1)
42.1
(5.6)
51.2
(10.7)
58.1
(14.5)
56.6
(13.7)
46.0
(7.8)
34.1
(1.2)
22.1
(−5.5)
13.0
(−10.6)
33.9
(1.1)
Record low °F (°C) −27
(−33)
−31
(−35)
−21
(−29)
1
(−17)
18
(−8)
31
(−1)
39
(4)
38
(3)
18
(−8)
−2
(−19)
−19
(−28)
−30
(−34)
−31
(−35)
Precipitation inches (mm) .30
(7.6)
.44
(11.2)
.93
(23.6)
1.80
(45.7)
3.22
(81.8)
2.53
(64.3)
1.85
(47)
1.56
(39.6)
1.29
(32.8)
1.42
(36.1)
.53
(13.5)
.42
(10.7)
16.29
(413.9)
Snowfall inches (cm) 4.4
(11.2)
5.8
(14.7)
8.7
(22.1)
7.9
(20.1)
1.1
(2.8)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
.2
(0.5)
1.6
(4.1)
6.0
(15.2)
5.4
(13.7)
41.1
(104.4)
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 5.4 5.7 7.6 9.5 11.7 12.3 9.5 7.7 7.0 7.2 5.3 5.4 94.3
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 5.4 5.8 5.3 4.4 .4 0 0 0 .4 1.5 4.1 5.8 33.1
Mean monthly sunshine hours 164.3 175.2 232.5 246.0 272.8 312.0 334.8 322.4 261.0 226.3 156.0 148.8 2,852.1
Source: NOAA (extremes 1942−present),[13][17] HKO (sun only, 1961−1990) [15]