Meet the Beasts
Aug 28, 2012
Labor Day weekend is summer's last hurrah for many. If you're traveling around South Dakota to enjoy the holiday, stop and appreciate the inventiveness and creativity of our fellow South Dakotans at one of our unique roadside attractions featuring wild things. There's Bear Country USA, Dinosaur Park and Reptile Gardens, sure, but here are three you may not know about.
A Lot of Bull
Drivers see South Dakota at 75 miles an hour crossing the state on Interstate 90, but many slow down, gawk and even swerve as they pass the Montrose exit 25 miles west of Sioux Falls. It’s probably the 60-foot tall scrap iron longhorn bull that diverts their attention. The bull is the centerpiece of Wayne Porter’s Sculpture Park, which comprises 10 acres of welded dragons, butterflies and other mythical creatures. Porter spends seven days a week at his park during the summer working on new projects and greeting visitors. It’s an ironic venture for Porter, who told us in 2007 that he studied political science and history at South Dakota State University because he thought an art career would be too time consuming. He even tried sheep ranching in Hand County before turning to sculpture full time.
His creations make people laugh and think. There’s a boy on a sled, a man’s hand reaching out from a brain for ideas and vultures lined up like fence posts. Everyone’s favorite, though, is the longhorn, made from 8-inch square steel plates from abandoned railroad tracks.
South Dakota's Heaviest Bird
Another hard-to-miss animal resides about two hours north of Porter’s park. Most Chinese ring-necked pheasants measure two or three feet from beak to tail and weigh less than five pounds. They are dwarfed by the Tinkertown Pheasant, easily our state’s heaviest bird. The Walters, proprietors of a country store along U.S. Highway 212 about 12 miles west of Watertown, built the concrete bird in 1950. They later added a concrete donkey they called Depression Nag. Girl Scouts from Clark paint the pair each summer.
Pheasants were introduced to South Dakota over 100 years ago and legislators declared it our state bird. Each fall hunters flock here to bag their limit. Plenty of South Dakota towns claim to be the “Pheasant Capital.” Huron, Gregory and Redfield each boast giant, plastic pheasants to support the claim, but those are lightweights compared to Tinkertown’s everlasting rooster.
A Haven in the Hills
Mike Welchynski, founder of the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, and friend.
More agile (and dangerous) animals can be seen outside of Spearfish at the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. Don’t be startled if you hear the roar of an African lion or the deep growl of a black bear. They’re supposed to be there, and Mike Welchynski is taking good care of them. Welchynski founded the sanctuary in 1999 as an escape for exotic animals victimized by illegal breeding farms and abusive carnivals and circuses. Welchynski grew up surrounded by animals in the woods of Manitoba and created an animal sanctuary there. Spearfish residents Johanna Meier and Guido Della Vecchia, who were touring Canada with the Black Hills Passion Play in 1998, convinced Welchynski to establish a sanctuary in South Dakota. Today more than 300 cougars, African lions, tigers, camels, tropical birds and other creatures (including dogs, cats, horses, hamsters and others) live on 200 acres of rocky Ponderosa pine forest on the edge of Spearfish. The playful, harmless critters roam free, but the more dangerous wild animals reside in spacious cages.