Recreation / Wellness

The Custer Recreation and Wellness Initiative is a volunteer subcommittee of the Empower Community Coaching which helps the residents of the City of Custer to be healthier through increased exercise opportunities and improved access to fresh foods.

Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield assisted us with the creation of a community goals to “Eat Well, Move More and Feel Better”. Those goals include: enhancing our community gardens, providing nutrition prescriptions with grocery store and farmers market discounts, increasing health food donations to local food pantries, providing physical activity prescriptions, enhancing existing parks, installing bike parking, and creating a nicotine free policy around our community hospital.

Our successes include supporting the Custer Regional Clinic Healing and Wellness Garden, installing four benches along Custer City trails, installing a flashing crosswalk at the Mt. Rushmore Road Mickelson Trail crosswalk, and helping the school district start a Farm-to-School Program that has reached nine out of ten standards. 

Below is a link for community resources in response to Covid-19.

Community Garden Opening In Late May

The Community/School Garden will Be Opening in Late May 2023

The community /school garden will be ready for planting starting late May 2023. The Recreation / Wellness Team, under the umbrella of the Custer Area Economic Development Corporation, is completing phase one of the work on relocating the garden to the Custer school’s campus next to Sidney Park Rd and south of the ball field. The project is a partnership between the City of Custer and the Custer school system. The garden has been designed by Tanya Olson of Tall grass Landscape Architecture. At this time the garden will have 16 raised beds, 3 ADA rectangle beds and 2-wheel chair accessible beds on a gravel pathway. The raised beds were built by the high school industrial arts classes. Parking is available off Sidney Park Road.

The project was funded through grants from AARP, Wellmark Foundation, Black Hills Area Community Foundation Southern Hills grant, Black Hills Energy – Community Giving grant and a Healthy Hometown Award. The grants were written by Kristy Ward, the team’s principal grant writer.

The team would like to thank Nielsen Enterprises owners Mark and Kim for their donation of gravel and dirt. Also thanks to Terry and Vera Ellerton for their donation of compost for raised beds.

To be a part of the garden, contact Colleen Hennessy at or call 605 673-2073. The garden plots are $30 a year for a 4 x 12 raised bed, or ADA bed. The fee will cover water, insurance and garden up keep.

Mickelson Trail Lighting

Custer Area Economic Development Corp. Seeks Input on Lighting for the Mickelson Trail

Since its formation in 2018 the Recreation/Wellness Committee (RWC), as part of the Custer Area Economic Development Corp. (CAEDC), has been focusing on improving pedestrian amenities in Custer. In 2018, in partnership with the City of Custer, the RWC engaged Wellmark’s Healthy Hometown consultants to conduct a Walkability Assessment (WA) within City limits. The resulting report is on the City’s website at

Among the report’s recommendations were suggestions for enhancing the Mickelson Trail, including the Custer State Park Spur and the Safe Route to Schools, within Custer City limits (the “Trails”).

The WA report was followed by the Custer City Comprehensive Plan (CCCP). Community input showed the need for improvements to pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and safer pedestrian crossings. The CCCP report is on the City’s website here: (

These reports have led to notable improvements including the blinking yellow light where the Mickelson Trail crosses State Highway 16 and the completion of the Safe Route to School Spur from the Trail to the Custer schools. In addition, the RWC has added three more benches, four bike racks and new wayfinding signs along the Trails.

Using 2018 population characteristics, the CCCP noted that over 14% of Custer City residents commute by walking. Custer City provides year-round maintenance on the Trails which encourages year-round use.

Based on these two reports there is more work needed. Both plans recommend providing lighting on the Trails. Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechaley has also expressed support for Trail lighting.

The RWC has been researching light fixtures that can withstand local weather conditions, including hail, wind and extreme temperatures, with minimal maintenance. Research has found that bollard (ground level) lighting is not practical for durability reasons. RWC has found solar light fixtures on poles that can address the weather issues. These fixtures can be directed downward and include dimming with a timer to minimize light pollution. The lighting would alternate sides with an estimated 150 feet between fixtures making the Trails visible without impacting surroundings.

Towns in the Black Hills including Somerset, Spearfish and Rapid City, as well as the Black Hills State University Rapid City Campus, have installed such lights with great results.

RWC is investigating grants and other means of fundraising to gather the approximately $700,000 that may be needed to install this type of lighting along the three miles of the Trails within the City limits.

Such a major effort requires public support and input. For that purpose, a brief survey has been developed which can be found at The public is invited to complete the survey by March 31.

The RWC welcomes questions about this project and their research to date and are available to speak to local organizations. The results of the survey and answers to the questions will be published in a future article. Questions can be emailed to Colleen Hennessy at