New Custer State Park Visitor Center: Different, Disappointing [OPINION]
The brand new Visitor Center at iconic Custer State Park is different and I am not sure in a good way. The location makes sense: near the Game Lodge and the start of the Wildlife Loop. After that the different kicks in.
The structure is not easily visible from the main road. Parking is in front, the building in back.
As you can see from the photos, there are no windows at eye level to connect the outdoors with the indoors. The grand walkway to the entrance ends with a wall. The door is to the left. The building appears to have been dropped into the site, not built into it. It does not give a feeling of welcome.
From a distance, the taller part of the structure is two curves connected, almost like a boat hull. The shorter sections look like individual additions. It reminds me of an older, smaller home that somebody added a bedroom onto, then another, then another.
The materials are normal South Dakota products; wood, stone, and concrete. However, they don't seem to blend with each other, nor into the site.
Inside the displays chronicle the white man's history of buffalo. They are well done. Plenty of great photos, including a chance to touch a hide, horn, and hoof.
Near the entrance is a great diorama of the park, including lighted displays controlled by staff showing roads to other sites both inside and outside the park.
A film, narrated by Kevin Costner, is part of the experience. I did not see that, as time would not allow it.
Missing in the display area is information, history, and photos of the Native American relationship to the buffalo (Tatanka). The omission of that history is conspicuous, and frankly disappointing.
The placement, design, and architecture of the building feels as it it was done by a committee, each person wanting their feature included. They all got what they wanted, but the totality of the effort produced mediocre results.
I love Custer State Park. It is one of my favorite places in the state. I recommend visits to anyone expressing interest in coming here. The grand buildings in the park are as unique as the park itself. Everything seems to fit. Except maybe the new visitor center.
A new visitor center was needed. As you can tell, I am disappointed with results.