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Two years on, tourism helps Hill City move past closure of sawmill

A sawmill worker in Hill City before the mill closed in 2021.
Seth Tupper
A sawmill worker in Hill City before the mill closed in 2021.

Two years have passed since the closure of the Rushmore Forest Products sawmill near Hill City. In its absence, the local economy has been forced to move forward.

Once the host of about 120 jobs, the mill represented a diversified economy for the community now reliant on tourism dollars.

Looking back, mayor Mike Verchio said the situation could have been worse.

“The impact obviously was large for our community, but it wasn’t in city limits so there’s no tax impact at all," Verchio said. "We had some employee impact, but a lot of the employees did not live here. So, really, it’s been kind of minimal. Plus you couldn’t ask for better corporate citizens – I mean they really took care of us.”

Chamber of commerce executive director Janet Wetovick-Bily said visitors are supplementing losses.

“Hill City is in a fabulous, primary location for people to visit, and what makes Hill City so beautiful and unique is the fact we’re located right smack in the middle of the Black Hills," Wetovick-Bily said. "We run on tourism, and we run on the support of all our locals as well.”

Wetovick-Bily said while jobs were lost, the community is looking at the future two years later.

"The growth that we’ve sustained in the last couple of years has overcome any sort of factor caused by the sawmill closing," Wetovick-Bily said. "The things that have made Hill City so unique and contributing to our economic growth are all the new businesses coming in.”

Mayor Verchio said he anticipates a growing, healthy Main Street for Hill City looking forward.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture