Decades ago, Custer State Park’s annual roundup of its buffalo herd was a minor event, attended by perhaps 200 people.
“The roundup is an activity that we would do regardless if anybody showed up or not,” said Craig Pugsley, visitor services coordinator for the park. But he is happy to accommodate the crowds.
“All the park sites are filled. The lodges are full. So is the town of Custer,” Pugsley said. “It’s a great economic shot in the arm at a time when we really need it here in the Black Hills.”
During the roundup, volunteers on horseback and in vehicles herd the park’s estimated 1,300 bison towards corrals. Herding the buffalo are between 40 and 50 riders on horseback, including state employees and civilians chosen for their equestrian skills. Those volunteers go through extensive safety training, which Pugsley said has kept injuries to a minimum over the decades. To Pugsley’s knowledge, no spectators have ever been injured during the roundup. Once in the corrals, the buffalo will be inspected, counted and vaccinated, and 205 animals will be selected to be sold at auctions later this the fall.
The roundup is the culmination of a weekend of activities at the park. The Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival runs Saturday and Sunday at the park and includes art exhibitions and a chili cook-off.