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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Open Valhalla as Public Landmark, Not Private Playground

The latest Madville Times poll finds a majority of you gentle readers agreeing with me on the use of Peter Norbeck's "Valhalla" cabin in the Black Hills. I asked you "Should Game Fish and Parks open the Peter Norbeck/"Valhalla" cabin for rental to the general public?" The results:
  • Yes: 88 (66%)
  • No: 46 (34%)
Norbeck's cabin is a remarkable public asset, built by a remarkable South Dakotan. Norbeck was our first Dakota-born governor. He won the federal funds—pork and stimulus!—that allowed Gutzon Borglum to carve four white guys on sacred Lakota ground and bring thousands of tourists to the Black Hills each year (pick your own value judgment; either way, Norbeck made history). Norbeck also pushed for the development of such South Dakota gems as the Needles Highway, Sylvan Lake, and the Custer, Badlands, and Wind Cave parks.

Much of Norbeck's life was dedicated to opening the Black Hills to more public use. That his cabin should become the private playground of "favored guests" of the ruling political regime flies in the face of Norbeck's values.

If we really want to get Norbeckian, we should be looking for ways to make as much money off the cabin as possible. Game Fish and Parks, which manages Valhalla, says the cabin generates maybe $4500 in revenue each year. Let's see... isolated cabin in the woods, six bedrooms, great hiking and biking and horseback riding, near several major attractions... would $100 a night be too low? At that rate, I think we could draw users for at least 180 days a year... $18,000 right there, quadruple the current revenue. And the sitting governor and his political friends could get in line to rent it right along with everyone else.

One of my good Democrat friends, Mr. Kurtz, says the governor needs a secure retreat, but I must differ. Every governor can use a vacation, sure, but can't he buy his own cabin at the lake like the rest of us? Let's not get too big for our britches: South Dakota's governor is not the President with the Secret Service and the nuclear football. Security is obviously not a concern in a state where the only things standing between citizens and the governor at work are a secretary and a wooden door. What's the point of a secure hidden location for the governor when he probably drives himself to Wal-Mart to pick up fishing tackle? The last thing we need to spend state money on is the crazy notion that our governor needs a secret compound to hide in.

The Peter Norbeck cabin in Custer State Park is a great public asset. We should make the most of it. Open it to the public. Rent it out to supplement the Sylvan Lake Lodge and other fancy lodging in our busiest state park.


  1. Set up a lottery for time in the lodge or an auction for time blocks or a combination of both.

    Give the governor and family first pick of one weekend.

  2. $1000 a night x 200 nights per year = 2 million to BHPH over the next 10 years and still plenty of time for select mucky mucks to hang out on the taxpayer's nickel.

  3. Cory,

    There are few more egalitarian than me. However, I think the Norbeck cabin should be closed to the Governor's use exclusively. No unaccommanied guests, no use for fundraising. Just a place for the Governor to use for his leisure.

    My rationale is simple. Pierre is a small town where the Governor can't do anything without running into employees and constituents. When I grew up in Pierre, Kneip was Governor. Instead of joining the other parents to watch his son run cross country, he had to park along the route and sit in his car. Otherwise, someone would use the opportunity to talk to the Governor. I observed similar intrusions with Governor Mickelson.

    Giving them a refuge to take their family without intrusion is good for their marriage and family life. While Governor's work 70 hours most weeks, an occassional opportunity to get away makes them better Governors. We all win.

  4. The argument feels thin, Troy. I do agree with the logic of giving the governor time away from the office, employees, press, etc. (good leisure, good Sabbath, is good for everyone). But if I were governor, I wouldn't need the state to provide my leisure: I'd just keep my regular home and go there when I need to get away and meditate my way to better policy. I've even thought I might just create a summer governor's mansion right here on Lake Herman. Spend the whole summer out of Pierre. Plenty quiet... and I could probably stay on top of state affairs from my netbook!

  5. Omg! Is ip agreeing with Troy? Dogs and cats sleeping together? Must be the End Days!

    Historic preservation is the greenest building technique. The State would have to build yet another building for the reasons that Troy just stated.

  6. But note Douglas's idea: we could accommodate the governor's retreat and still give the public ample opportunity to enjoy it. Give the governor dibs on 14 days at the cabin (7 weekends, week at Thanksgiving and week at 4th of July, two weeks straight in August, any arrangement), open it to the public (hiker/biker's hostel, anyone?) the rest of the time. Best of both worlds?

  7. Montana's governor's retreat makes Valhalla look like a shotgun shack. Still trying to find pictures. ip has a Border Patrol agent on the phone but she's driving her goddess mother to a concert in Denver. Stay tuned.

  8. Michael Black8/29/2010 5:02 PM

    I could find thousands of examples of gov't waste before coming to the Norbeck cabin.

    Possible the state of SD has landed some huge commitments from companies willing to locate to SD after being hosted by thegovernor at the Norbeck cabin.

    It's OK to just let it be.

  9. Cory,

    Thin to you or not. Opening up the public would add significant security issues that would add significant operating costs as well.


    We are just two clocks going in opposite directions and on occassion our hands will pass each other. :)

  10. Positions of power should have some perks. Just like Obama, we want our executive to relax, contemplate, and and make good decisions!

  11. Ok, The State of Montana leases several venues from private parties for the governor, including the Montana Island Lodge at Salmon Lake. Governor Schweitzer hosts dignitaries at his private home as well.

  12. Interesting, Larry. I wonder which is cheaper: maintaining a publicly owned retreat year-round or renting a private facility as needed. Troy does make a point that opening a facility to the public will at least increase operating costs.

    But beyond the dollars, I'd suggest we get a return on public good in more people using and enjoying Norbeck's cabin, learning more about SD history, and making public things truly public.

  13. I bet those smart Republican bean counters can figure out a way to cover the additional expenses and still make a few bucks. I hear they're supposed to be good at that. ;^|


  14. Concessionaires like Phil Lampert and Art Janklow have operated State-owned Slaven Lake Lodge (that's what employees used to call it when ip was in the biz), Blue Bell and others. That seems like a logical approach.


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