Big Sioux River Greenway expansion continues

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 11:38 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Looking at the Big Sioux River Greenway, it’s hard to imagine just how bad it was back in the 70s when a group was formed to improve the ribbon of water making its way through our city. Former Sioux Falls Mayor Rick Knobe supported the river clean-up while in office from 1974 to 1984.

“Falls Park with all that stuff around the Queen Bee Mill, there were scrap yards there. Where that big park area is on the west bank that was actually a dump,” said Knobe.

It took time and building relationships with landowners to create the greenway. Knobe and I met at the redeveloped area at 26th Street and I-229.

“One of the first dedications of public land we’re standing on right now is Rotary Park,” said Knobe.

Acquiring land adjacent to the river from private owners was just the start. Cleaning it was next.

“Around by Tuthill Hill Park in that area, there were car bodies in the river, there were picnic tables in the river, there were tires, junk everywhere,” said Knobe. “Where Fawick Park is on the opposite bank, there were car batteries because there was a car recycling thing, we had professionals take care of that stuff.”

Falls Park looked much different back then.

“And all the stuff around the falls. We basically bought, with the exception of what the old NSP property is. The Northern State Power building adjacent to the restaurant at Falls Park was torn down. The demolition was expensive due to asbestos mitigation. That cost us an arm and a leg,” said Knobe.

Having the perspective of our city from the recreational trail is like none other.

“And it’s been successful far beyond what we originally anticipated. And I’m sure there’s more stuff coming. Although there isn’t much land left downtown,” said Knobe.

One of the last areas next to the Big Sioux to be developed is the former Sioux Steel area, under the supervision of Lloyd Company’s President and CEO Christ Thorkelson.

“And so you’re opening up for sure, you know 10 to 15 acres that are now accessible to the river for the general public. And it’s at the point where it’s the cascading of The Falls of Sioux Falls, that’s where it starts,” said Thorkelson. “The city is coming alongside and doing significant improvements to the River Greenway and tying it into what exists today.”

Knobe hopes the scope of a beautiful and accessible greenway will continue beyond the city limits.

“The big plan was Lake Kampeska, all the way to Sioux City,” said Knobe.

I asked Knobe if at some point it will be safe to swim in the Big Sioux.

“Oh yeah, not in my lifetime, but in yours. Yes,” said Knobe.

After decades of work, seeing users take personal responsibility to keep The Big Sioux River clean while they enjoy it, is heartwarming for Knobe.

“We need to be, you know, with land with mother nature with water, and it works perfectly in Sioux Falls,” said Knobe.

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