UPDATE: This story has been amended to account for the membership of the current Fort Pierre Tourism Board. Neither Sunny Hannum nor Chris Maxwell are members of the Tourism Board. Updated 10:50 a.m., June 19.
In February of this year, the Fort Pierre Tourism Board's secretary and clerical work handler Sunny Hannum said that the city was looking to replace many of its decorative plastic bison cutouts with sturdier metal versions. The plastic bison had been worn down by harsh winter weather and were beginning to fall apart; it was time for them to be retired. Hannum said that the city had hoped to have this project completed by Memorial Day.
“From bridge to bridge, Bad River to Missouri River, there are about 25 that need replacing,” she said on February 28.
But the world upends the best-laid plans of mice and men. This spring, Hannum and the board discovered that replacing the two-dozen-or-so worn plastic bison with metal doppelgängers would be prohibitively expensive.
“There was just nothing in the budget for it,” Hannum said on June 18.
As a result, Fort Pierre’s “herd” of buffalo silhouettes — initially created for the city’s bicentennial celebrations in 2017 — has shrunk by about six head. Hannum said they “have either blown or been thrown away.”
Hannum said there were no plans in the immediate future to replace those six lost silhouettes.
Fortunately, this is not the end of the two-dimensional herd’s trail. When the city realized that the plastic buffalo could not be easily replaced, it recruited some local artists to revitalize them. Early in May, Cassandra Mraz, the Art Teacher at Stanley County High School, took a team of students to re-paint the trio of carriage-pulling bison which sits in Triangle Park, between Deadwood Street and 1st Street. The students decorated the three plastic cut-outs with the American flag and tipis set against a backdrop of a setting prairie sun.
Additionally, while not building more simple metal silhouettes, the city is trying something a bit more experimental. Last week it contacted Reube’s Welding & Manufacturing, a local metalworking company, to build a trial version of a steel buffalo bike stand.
At the moment, “we’re still working on the design for it,” Reube’s co-owner Meshanna Heckenlaible said. It’s all still concepts on paper. Price, dimensions, timeframe for completion; Heckenlaible said all the details were still undetermined.
“We have not a clue right now,” she said, regarding both the prototype’s final cost and the timeframe for its completion. “That’s what [the city] wants to know too.”
This fact regardless, Heckenlaible said she believes that once the plans for the prototype bike stand are nailed down, the actual fabrication of the stand will not take long at all.
“Without ever being interrupted, I think [Reube’s co-owner Brad Heckenlaible] could probably do it in three days max,” she said. “And that would just be the first one.”
If the trial bike stand is a hit, the city might consider getting more, Heckenlaible said. Possibly through a tag team of Reube’s and other local manufacturing companies working together. Hannum said that no plastic bison would be used as bike racks.
Hannum also said that “other ideas are being discussed to grow the herd throughout Fort Pierre.”
These ideas include three-dimensional bronze (or bronze-looking) bison statues for the future Fort Pierre Bridge Plaza and wooden bison cut-outs to accentuate the backs of city benches. Perhaps most ambitiously, Hannum said that former Tourism Board Executive Director Chris Maxwell was “working on an idea for a buffalo state park near Fort Pierre.”
Maxwell, who is currently recuperating from illness in the hospital and no longer a member of the Tourism Board, was not available for comment as to just what a “buffalo state park” entailed.
All of this is, of course, still theoretical. Though the bison bike stand is imminent, when or if any of the rest of these bison-themed projects ever come to fruition remains to be seen. But with so many other changes also on their way to Fort Pierre — a bridge plaza, a Casey’s, the first Indian Relays — Hannum said “growing the herd” is still a priority for the tourism board.