Hidden in vast fields of corn and soybeans, Palisades State Park is 30 minutes outside of Sioux Falls.
Sioux quartzite formations make the park popular with rock climbers. Access to Split Rock Creek means those who want to fish or relax by swimming can do so. Families can stroll along the 4 miles of the trail and enjoy picnics.
It is a popular destination for weddings, family reunions, engagements, and selfies, and 50 years after its inception, it is about to grow even more. Work is underway on an expansion project of a few hundred acres, announced in 2019, that will add more camping areas, picnic areas, and recreational activities.
While the rock formations have been around for more than a billion years, Palisades celebrated its 50th anniversary as a South Dakota state park on Saturday.
“I hear stories all the time for people, ‘Oh, back in the day I was a kid, we used to come in here and do such-and-such,’” said Luke Drakeman, Palisades neighborhood park superintendent. “It’s a wonderful quality of life.”
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50 years later, Argus Leader asked readers what their favorite memories were and asked what the next 50 years would be like.
A quick history of the barriers
The Sioux quartzite formations in Palisades are estimated to be about 1.2 billion years old, according to the Palisades State Park website. Split Rock Creek was responsible for cutting the gorges around the park.
“The history of how everything was created and put together is unique and fascinating,” said Drakeman.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the town of Palisades was established. There was a flour mill running the table. And in 1886, low-grade silver was discovered downstream, according to the Palisades website.
A review of the Argus Leader archive found that the park was mentioned in 1947 after the Game, Fish and State Parks Department acquired the land. Plans were made to add picnic shelter and improve the path to the park.
By July 1970, it was announced that Palisades had been converted into a public park and had grown to 100 acres, according to the Argus Leader Archive. The road to the park was to be paved, a new car park would be constructed, and the park would develop the campground.
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Six years later, a group of more than 200 foreign journalists and their families toured the Palisades as part of an eight-month program to explore national parks and historic places, the Argus Leader archives show.
Over the years, the park has been a place for people to learn about the outdoors and activity, as when a group of high schools from Pipestone, Minnesota, visited in the 1990s for a physical education class.
Snapshots of memories
For some, Palisades is a special place.
Jordan Alberts, 28, and her husband, Ben Alberts, visit often because of their love of nature and hiking.
“This was a place where we spent a lot of our relationship, hiking and being able to enjoy the scenery together,” she said.
And at those heights, too, the couple began discussing the idea of marriage and what their lives together would look like.
In late December 2021, the two went out for a walk along the river.
“It was kind of weird,” Alberts said. “We went down by the water and went back to the main spot, where the rocks look out over the water, and he suggested to me there. It was a full circle experience, because it was a place we went to a lot during our relationship.”
Alberts said they took their engagement photos there.
Jordan and Ben recently married in June.
Others remember the park from childhood, such as Dale Olson, who shared his photographs of Palisades with Argus Leader.
“Unlike some, I didn’t dive into the water from the bridge or the rock formations. It’s hard to imagine, but this used to happen regularly,” he wrote in an email, describing his time as a teenager going to the park.
He still visits, and now spends his time taking nature photographs.
What is the future of the garden?
Drakeman said Palisades will grow in the next few years due to an expansion project announced in 2019. The expansion included a land purchase agreement between four landowners and the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Corporation.
“We’ve gone from 167 acres to 435 acres,” he said, adding that the park will expand from 34 camping sites to 110 and add other picnic shelters.
more:Celebrate 50 years of Palisades by sending us your photos
There will also be a shooting range, a golf course, and possibly a dog park, Drakeman said. Easy access to the waters for fishing and kayaking opportunities is also expected.
Drakeman said the project should be completed within the next four years, depending on fundraising. But he hopes the camp expansion will open by the spring of 2024.
“We obviously have a lot of big plans, a lot of expansion, a lot of additional opportunities and the ability to accommodate all different types of user groups to get everyone outdoors in nature, and put smiles on people’s faces,” he said. “Obviously, that’s what we’re here for, to create those eternal memories.”