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Renovation project takes young workers to lookout tower at Custer Peak

Custer Peak
Forest Serivce, HistoriCorps, and Job Corps crew members rest while working at Custer Peak in the Black Hills.

A work crew is doing renovation work and upgrades to the lookout tower atop Custer Peak in the Black Hills National Forest.

Forest Service archeologist David Porter says the tower was first built in the early 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s been in service ever since.

“My role as the archeologist was to ensure that what we're doing to the lookout tower will match the historic character of what it originally looked like when it was built in 1940s," Porter said. "We’re matching what it originally looked like. We’re not trying to change the design of it."

Workers on the project come from the forest service, HistoriCorp and the Job Corps. Ed Lewis, who works with the Box Elder Job Corps, said it’s an important training opportunity for some of their workers.

“A lot of the students - this is like their last chance," Lewis said. "A lot of them blowing out of high school and don’t have any direction. We try to give them a direction in life, skills, a trade, and an education.”

One of the crew leaders is Beckett Hunecke. He said the work programs teach valuable skills.

"I think people in my generation, I’m only 22, I think we’ve often been pushed towards higher education college wise," Hunecke said. "While that’s good, I did that, that can be a good background for you, we need more tradesmen too.”

Hunecke said they stress safety for workers but he admits it’s hard work. Before crews could even start on the lookout tower renovations, they had to get construction materials to the job site. ATVs got timber most of the way up the hill, but it was hand carried the final quarter mile.

From start to finish, the lookout tower renovation job is expected to take five weeks.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering education, healthcare, arts and culture.