History of the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve
The Norbeck Wildlife Preserve was created by Congressional action and Presidential Proclamation in 1920. Originally called the Custer State Park Game Sanctuary, it was intended to protect game animals and birds and to provide a breeding place for them. The name was changed in 1949 to honor Peter Norbeck, a former South Dakota Governor and U.S. Senator, who was instrumental in creating the Preserve as well as Custer State Park.
The Preserve originally contained some 30,000 acres. Subsequent legislative and administrative changes, including the creation of a corridor connecting Sylvan Lake with the rest of Custer State Park, have resulted in today's 27,766 acre Preserve. The area around Harney Peak was designated as the Black Elk Wilderness by Congress in 1980. It is named for Black Elk, a holy man of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Geology of the Area
The oldest rocks in the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve exhibit a record of earth events dating back nearly 2.5 billion years. Shale and sandstone rocks originally deposited as a sea floor were later metamorphosed by the intrusion of molten granite magma. In more recent time -- two to six hundred million years ago -- the Black Hills area was part of a great inland sea that covered much of North America. Layers of sandstone, shale and limestone that surround Norbeck were deposited at this time.
During the uplift of the Rocky Mountains, the Black Hills rose as an elongated dome. Subsequent erosion of the overlying sediments exposed the granite complex of needles, pinnacles and knobs. Erosion gradually molded the rounded hills and divides, and the parklike valleys.
The rugged granites of the Harney Peak area now contrast sharply with the gently rolling parks and valleys of softer minerals that are more easily worn away by erosion. The effect of millions of years of weathering on these materials has created one of the most dramatic landscapes in the Black Hills: the Norbeck.
Views from the trails in the Norbeck are spectacular. Harney Peak is visible to the hiker or horseback rider from lower elevations along most of the trails. Cathedral Spires and other needles formations, Elkhorn Mountain, and Little Devils Tower also catch your eye from various trails.
From many places at higher elevations, views of the gently rolling prairies surrounding the Black Hills are a reminder that this is truly a "forested island in a sea of grass."
Hunting and Fishing
Hunting and fishing are allowed in both the Black Elk Wilderness and the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, but be prepared to pack that game animal out by horseback or on your back. Remember, no motorized vehicles are allowed in the Norbeck.
Wildlife abounds within the Norbeck. Visitors may see whitetailed deer, elk, wild turkey, beaver, and mountain goats. The grizzly bears and wolves that once roamed through the area are found today only in wildlife parks. For anglers, there are fishable streams alongside some of the trails.
Smaller mammals include the ubiquitous chipmunks, cottontail rabbits, squirrels, and field mice, while martens and marmots are more rare. Reptiles are represented by several species of snakes, including the prairie rattlesnake.
Bird species from both eastern and western provinces meet in the Black Hills, making the area a birdwatcher's delight. In the Norbeck, species of the higher Hills and spruce forest communities can be observed, including northern goshawk, ruffed grouse, three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers, kinglets, and brown creepers.
The flora of the Norbeck are as varied as the topography, from open grassy meadows to spruce forests among deep rock canyons. Ponderosa pine is the dominant tree; other stands include aspen, birch, spruce and oak. Beneath the tree canopy such species as juniper, kinnikinnick, raspberry, snowberry, and chokecherry can be found.
Wildflowers in many colors make the open areas along the trails a garden from spring through fall. Species from the east and west, mountain and prairie, find suitable habitats, adding to the special place known as the Norbeck.