Thursday, April 6, 2006
Beer license approved near sacred Indian butte
By Joe Kafka
The Associated Press
DOUG DREYER / AP
Jay Allen, right, who wants to build a biker bar at the base of Bear Butte, sits near Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader from the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, on Tuesday during a Mead County Commission meeting.
STURGIS, S.D. — To American Indians, Bear Butte is a place to pray and meditate, where colorful prayer cloth and pouches with offerings of tobacco and sage are tied to tree branches along a hiking trail.
For business owners, the 4,422-foot peak is a destination for thousands of bikers who fork out money for beer and a place to camp during an annual rally in nearby Sturgis.
Despite strong opposition from Indian groups hoping to prevent further encroachment on the mountain, Meade County authorities Tuesday unanimously approved a beer license for a campground, biker bar and concert area.
The butte, on the fringe of the Black Hills, is in a state park and is protected as a National Historic Landmark. However, it is surrounded by private property.
One of those landowners is Jay Allen, who owns the Broken Spoke Saloon in Sturgis, just a few miles from the mountain.
Allen plans to open a bar about 2 ½ miles from the base of Bear Butte, drawing customers during the monster motorcycle rally that draws several hundred thousand people each August. He plans to also take advantage of the rally to fill his campground and sell beer.
Allen first announced development of the project on a square mile of prairie last summer, proposing to call it Sacred Ground. He talked about building an 80-foot Indian statue as a tribute to tribes but abandoned the idea and changed the project's name to Sturgis County Line after criticism from Indian groups.
He argued at the hearing that he has a right to develop his land, which totals about 600 acres. But amid strong opposition from a room full of Indians from several tribes, Allen pledged to be a good neighbor.
"I'm embarrassed that it's evolved to this," he said.
State officials have said at least 17 tribes place special significance on Bear Butte. Others have said nearly 60 tribes consider the peak sacred. Bear Butte, a volcano that never erupted, has been a state park since 1961, and a special area is set aside for Indian ceremonies.
document.write('');Opponents of Allen's project said at the hearing that thousands of noisy motorcycles and other large campground and entertainment complexes near Sturgis already disrupt the serenity of Bear Butte.
"We need a quiet place," said Arvol Looking Horse, a Sioux who wore a fully feathered headdress and buckskin tunic. "Bear Butte is a very sacred place."
Indian groups, led by the Bear Butte International Alliance, oppose all development that would disturb the tranquility around the peak. The alliance has been pressing county officials to stop issuing beer and liquor licenses within a seven-mile radius of Bear Butte.
Dean Wink, a county commissioner, said he understands the significance Indians attach to the butte. But he said that other businesses in the area have received alcohol licenses and that to deny Allen the same opportunity would be to deny him his rights.
Work on Allen's project is under way.
Allen said he hopes to have the campground and biker bar ready for this year's motorcycle rally, which officially runs one week but also draws people for a week before and a week afterward.
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