When one travels as often as I have, one notices that some areas are in denial about who they are as a city and other areas know who they are and make the most of it. Portland, for example, is an area that is in long-term denial about being a large city, and thinks that if they keep suburban sprawl from happening enough and fail to build up the infrastructure needed in bridges, highways, and the like, that other people will simply stop moving to the area. My thoughts about this sort of denial are fairly obvious and hostile. Rapid City, South Dakota, though, is a small city that knows it is a tourist trap and has clearly made the most of it. As someone who grew up in Central Florida, the place and its tourism approach is something I recognize well from areas like Orlando and Kissimmee, and I mean that in the best way.
When one comes to Rapid City, one’s first thoughts are of the area of Mount Rushmore, and occasionally one of the other places of interest in the area like the Crazy Horse Memorial (both of which are great examples of monumental statuary, it must be admitted). Yet this barely even scratches the surface of the city’s offerings, which include numerous museums, Fort Hays (the set of Dances With Wolves, as dozens of billboards will remind you), the Reptile Gardens, an amusement park with bison themes, a driving nature tour with bear themes, and many, many more options. The amount of things to do in Rapid City and the surrounding area is deeply impressive, even to the most jaded tourist. The people of Rapid City have clearly embraced their role as a tourist destination and have deliberately made their city very appealing for tourists to stick around and spend their money.
This is in evidence not only from the many places there are to see in the area but also the way that Rapid City has provided the proper infrastructure to support these travelers. Whether one is dealing with a friendly and small regional airport, convenient driving, and plenty of hotels, restaurants, and gas stations (not something that can be taken for granted in this part of the world), Rapid City goes out of its way to provide what those visiting need, and that is something that is worthy of respect and approval. It is certainly a joy to go to a place that knows it has what tourists want to see, and goes about earning the interest of those travelers in polite but obviously efficient fashion.
Rapid City has managed to do all of this, moreover, without losing its personality and charm as a small city. Whether one looks at the quirkiness of what the city and its surrounding area have to offer, including offbeat museums and other stops, places to buy antiques and carvings, and even the statues that fill the street corners of the city, Rapid City is more than just a place that caters to tourists, but a place that has a real personality of its own that is part of its charm and appeal. It even advertises some of its restaurants by making the appeal that locals eat there, an appeal I first remember seeing for a tasty Italian restaurant in Dothan.
This does not mean that Rapid City has smooth sailing in its goals to draw and cater to tourists on a massive scale. The infrastructure for tourism that the town has requires enough people to work in order to provide these services, and that is by no means an assured thing at present. In addition to this, the tourist infrastructure of Rapid City is threatened in very potent ways. For example, it was possible on the road and from the air to see the massive devastation that was wrought by the ash beetle some fifteen to twenty years ago from which the forests of the Black Hills have still yet to recover. In addition to this, political threats to deface Mount Rushmore would endanger a major source of the area’s appeal to tourists. Even an area as charming as Rapid City is not immune from the problems of our day and age, and that is a problem that infrastructure alone cannot solve, alas.