The Incomparable Black Hills
Rapid City is a dynamic community located in western South Dakota on the eastern edge of the Black Hills.
A region long held sacred by the Sioux, Lt. Col. George A. Custer’s discovery of gold during the 1874 expedition to the Black Hills started a gold rush that peaked in 1876.
The discovery of gold subverted the 1868 Treaty of Laramie which had recognized the Black Hills as belonging to the Sioux. Deadwood became the focal point of the gold rush, and “Black Hills Gold” remains a distinctive trademark for jewelry produced in the area.
THE REGION TODAY
Founded in 1880, Rapid City is South Dakota’s second largest city with a metropolitan population of 130,000, and a trade area population of more than 300,000. Gold is no longer the driving force for the Black Hills. The region is now the retail, medical, and transportation hub for a 250-mile radius.
Major employers include Ellsworth Air Force Base, Rapid City Regional Hospital, the Federal government, and Black Hills Corporation. The region is also a major tourist destination, drawing millions of visitors to the region each year from around the world. In addition to John Witherspoon College, the region is home to two public universities, one private university, and an extension center for higher education.
South Dakota was recently rated the tenth most livable state in the country, with the seventh lowest cost of living index and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. South Dakota is also ranked as one of the safest states.
Rapid City offers city-wide transportation, making it easy to get around even without a car. Rapid City Regional Airport offers non-stop service to Denver, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Houston, and Minneapolis. The airport is served by Delta, United, Allegiant, and American Airlines.
Known locally as “the Banana Belt,” the Black Hills region experiences a wide variety of weather conditions, though the climate is generally temperate. An average January afternoon will see temperatures in the low 30’s, with readings typically in the upper 80’s during July. The sky is sunny to partly sunny about 300 days a year. Rapid City receives an average nineteen inches of precipitation a year. Snowfall averages forty-three inches a year, but snow on the ground exceeds one inch on only two dozen days each winter.
The Black Hills provide almost unlimited opportunities for recreation—with two National Parks, two National Monuments, a National Historic Site, Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, and hundreds of miles of biking, hiking, and snowmobiling trails throughout the Hills. Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument are among the longest caves in the world. Harney Peak, at 7,242 feet, is the highest mountain east of the Rockies. The northern Black Hills feature two ski resorts, which receive more than 110 inches of natural snow each year. Badlands National Park lies a short distance east of Rapid City, with varied recreational opportunities.
Rapid City itself boasts more than thirteen miles of greenway along Rapid Creek. Entertainment in the area includes four museums and seventeen golf courses. The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center plays host to numerous concerts and other events, as well as the Rapid City Rush professional hockey team.
There are more than 150 churches in the Black Hills region representing a wide range of denominations and traditions, and offering ample opportunities for involvement and ministry. Many area congregations and a number of Christian social organizations and parachurch ministries engage the community in outreach, and the region draws notable Christian leaders. “Hills Alive,” a two-day contemporary Christian concert in July, draws thousands of visitors to hear internationally known artists in live performance.