Crazy Horse autumn hike a success
The first ever Crazy Horse Memorial Autumn Volksmarch up the world’s largest mountain carving in progress drew 3,751 people on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29-30.
The new Black Hills adventure attracted people from many foreign countries and across the country, including student groups for northeastern Wyoming and Native American students from the Pine Ridge and Crow Creek reservations in South Dakota.
“The response was just wonderful, it really was,” Crazy Horse Memorial CEO Ruth Ziolkowski said of the turnout for the first Crazy Horse Autumn Volksmarch. “I am absolutely thrilled.”
Overall, hikers gave 6,678 pounds of food and $5,526.84 to benefit people served by the nonprofit Feeding South Dakota food bank, Rapid City operations manager Monica Leitheiser said. The food bank can acquire six pounds of food for a dollar.
Sunday’s opening day saw 2,811 people of all ages take on the challenging hiking trail. The woodlands terrain climbs and drops 500 feet in elevation between the starting and finishing points at the visitor complex and the turnaround point at the carved face.
Hikers enjoy the experience at their own pace. Two hikers from nearby Custer, SD opted to quickly complete the 6.2-mile course. On Saturday, Dave Kamienski finished first in 98 minutes, while Susan Swindal claimed first on Monday, clocking 69 minutes, or about 11 minutes per hour, over the rugged hilly route.
Monday’s hike saw 940 people brave cool, unrelenting wind that generated many stories among hikers and trail workers about hats and other items – including at least one pair of eye glasses – flying off to who knows where, said Ken Kjar, a member of the sponsoring Black Hills Volkssport Association.
Students from Crow Creek Tribal Schools gathered at the finish line, anxious for adult chaperones to finish. Wind was one thing, but there was concern about the pizza waiting for the Fort Thompson area group.
The nearly 80 high school and middle school students from the Missouri River reservation had endured a three-hour bus ride from central South Dakota just to get to the starting line at Crazy Horse.
The last four people completing the two-day special event could serve as the poster family for what tourism advocates hoped to accomplish with the “One Great Weekend” fall promotion.
The Pittsburgh area group had planned a vacation, but learned about the Crazy Horse hike, and altered their arrangements. By doing so, they also saw the Custer State Park buffalo roundup and food-art festival, were in the area for Mount Rushmore, the Oktoberfest celebration at Hill City and Keystone, and the Badger Clark western story and song celebration at Hot Springs.
R. MacDonald Cunningham, Peggy Cunningham, Patty Stuchel and Beth Forejt earned medals from hike organizers for prevailing in brisk conditions, even turning down offers for rides back to the visitor complex, to complete the Crazy Horse hike.
“We made a lot of friends,” Mrs. Ziolkowski said. “Hopefully, the autumn hike can become an annual event.”