Norbeck Wildlife Preserve


Interagency  Norbeck Wildlife Preserve 100th Anniversary webpage


Within the heart of the Black Hills of SD, lies the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve.

Here, visitors experience a legacy left behind by a man named Peter Norbeck who had a vision for preserving natural beauty and protecting wildlife, while making a special area accessible to everyone.

In 1905, Peter Norbeck, a South Dakota conservationist, State Senator, Governor and later, a US Senator, paid a visit to the southern Black Hills and was taken by the beautiful and rugged terrain. Norbeck had long envisioned the creation of a State Park and this visit would help define the perfect location for just that.

In 1913, Norbeck’s vigorous work helped establish Custer State Forest, now known as Custer State Park. As time passed, Norbeck became concerned about dwindling game species such as buffalo and antelope and estimated that the State Forest could support a larger number of wildlife. Norbeck began to rally support for a game preserve to be set-aside to protect wildlife.

The Norbeck Organic Act of June 5, 1920 was a Congressional act that authorized the establishment of the Custer State Park Game Sanctuary. The Act set aside 30,000 acres of Harney National Forest (now known as Black Hills National Forest) to adjoin the existing Custer State Forest “for the protection of game animals and birds and to be recognized as a breeding place therefor.”

The sanctuary was officially established by proclamation on October 9, 1920, by President Woodrow Wilson. 

In 1949, Congress renamed the federal portion of the Sanctuary to the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve after Peter Norbeck, who had passed away in 1936.

The Norbeck Wildlife Preserve connects people of all ages to the landscape and offers diverse recreational opportunities. It covers some of the highest and most rugged terrain in the Black Hills.

The Black Elk Wilderness is located in the center of the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve. This area is named for Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota holy man. Black Elk Peak is located within the wilderness, is the highest point in the United States east of the Rockies and is a very popular hiking destination. Black Elk Peak Trail #9 South (normally open to hiking and stock use) is the most heavily used trail on the Forest with approximately 500 visitors a day during peak use.

The Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway was established in 2001. This 70-mile corridor encompasses the Preserve and was created to showcase the scenic beauty of the area. Portions of the Byway were designed by Norbeck after searching for routes that would provide “the grandest view” and allow visitors to drive slowly and experience the winding route, pig-tail bridges and narrow rock tunnels. The picturesque views of the Preserve can be seen from the road and at several overlooks on the byway which passes through the Black Hills National Forest, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Custer State Park.

“You’re not supposed to drive here at 60 miles per hour. To do the scenery half justice, people should drive 20 or under, to do it full justice, they should get out and walk.” -Peter Norbeck, circa 1920

June 5, 2020 marked the 100th Anniversary of the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve. The Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, Black Hills Parks & Forest Association and Norbeck Society worked together to commemorate the interagency celebration during 2020.