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She loves her job as leaf reporter, and there’s nothing weird about that

Leaf reporter Kimberly Talcott in Spearfish Canyon.
Leaf reporter Kimberly Talcott in Spearfish Canyon.

The interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public affairs show, In the Moment with Lori Walsh.

As titles go, Kimberly Talcott’s is pretty tough to beat.

She’s the leaf reporter.

Cool, huh? Just don’t expect her to come to your town and give you an update on what the leaves are doing there.

She’s a very specific leaf reporter in a very specific place at a very specific time of the year.

Talcott is the Spearfish Canyon leaf reporter for the Spearfish Chamber of Commerce. It’s a part-time job, just part of the year. But what a time that part of the year is.

And what a place. Oh, what a place.

“Just being part of this awesome biological situation in the canyon is cool,” the 37-year-old freelance writer said Wednesday morning, as we stood and talked near the Iron Creek Trailhead partway up the canyon.

Talcott gets up there two or three times week during late summer and early autumn to check on the changing colors in Spearfish Canyon. Then she gives a report, with pictures and sometimes videos, for the Spearfish Chamber of Commerce website:

Kimberly Talcott photographs a grasshopper on fall vegetation in the Canyon
Kimberly Talcott photographs a grasshopper on fall vegetation in the Canyon

This is the third year Talcott has been the leaf reporter. She took over for Jerry Boyer, who handled the annual report and promoted the canyon for many years.

“Jerry had reached a point where he was kind of ready to step back as leaf reporter,” Talcott said. “Fall was coming and I heard that they needed someone to track it. And I know how important it is for our area.”

Talcott was driven by more than just community spirit, however. She loves the canyon. She loves the outdoors. And she loves autumn. Seems like a trifecta of motivating factors.

She also gets to meet and hang out with people who are also deeply inspired by autumn changes in the canyon.

“I’ve found out there are people who are just as excited about the changing of the seasons as I am,” she said. “So it’s not like I’m just this weird person.”

If she’s weird about the canyon and the coming of autumn, so am I. At not quite 71, I’ve been coming to the canyon since I started riding along on family vacations when I was a kid. And I’ve been a much-more-frequent visitor since I moved to Rapid City in 2002.

I’ve since discovered better drives in the Black Hills if you’re looking just for dense stands of colorful aspen and birch trees. The Tinton Road running west and south of the canyon is a perfect example. But it’s a gravel road that is almost always fairly busy, really dusty, and often rough with a washboard-like surface.

The leaves are beginning to change in The Bowl in Spearfish Canyon, one of the most beautiful spots to see fall colors.
The leaves are beginning to change in The Bowl in Spearfish Canyon, one of the most beautiful spots to see fall colors.

Taking a smooth ride through autumn beauty

There’s no dust or washboard problems on the drive through Spearfish Canyon on U.S. Highway 14A. It’s all asphalt.

Beyond the smooth, dust-free ride, there’s simply no place in the Black Hills, and I’d argue in all of South Dakota, that offers the breathtaking mix of autumn visuals — the changing leaves, the stunning limestone walls, and the beautiful blue-ribbon trout stream — of Spearfish Canyon.

Along the route, you’re likely to see deer, turkeys, and mountain goats. You might have to slow down and even stop if the goats are clustered on the highway.

You’ll typically see the mountain goats in the Bridal Veil falls area. And that area can get congested. So be particularly careful if the goats are on or along the road, for your safety and theirs.

Bridal Veil is one of three popular waterfalls in the canyon, and it’s right along the highway. Spearfish Falls is a short hike down from Latchstring Inn at Savoy. And Roughlock Falls is just a short drive — this time on gravel — up the Little Spearfish Creek valley from Savoy.

If you can’t be impressed by all that, you might want to reorder your priorities.

I’m impressed, and always have been.

So, when I saw the email last week from the Spearfish Chamber promoting the annual changing-colors update, I sent some emails, made some calls, and set up the interview with Talcott. Not until I stepped out of my pickup at Iron Creek did I realize we weren’t strangers.

“You probably don’t remember, but we know each other,” she said. “I worked with you on some stories when I was at Black Hills State.”

The dim light of recollection got brighter. And I recognized the name and the face.

Talcott, an Omaha native and USD communications/Spanish graduate, worked at Black Hills State University in public information while I was working for KELO TV in Rapid City. She came to BHSU after getting an advanced degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and spending five years in Pittsburgh, Penn., grant writing for a nursing school.

Talcott was familiar with South Dakota through her USD experience and from family fishing trips to the Missouri River when she was growing up. And when her parents moved from Omaha to the Black Hills, Talcott and her husband, John, followed with the first of the three children they now have.

Talcott then spent five years with BHSU. When COVID hit and she started working from home, she liked it so much she decided to keep it up and go freelance. That gives her a variety of writing options and more flexibility to deal with the increasingly busy schedule of her kids.

Moving into the magical season in the canyon

It also leaves her free to be the leaf reporter. And while she had been up the canyon for a look the day before, as long as she was there for the interview with me she checked the status of leaves again.

And she was reminded that things can change in a hurry when the nights start getting cool.

“As I look around, I’d say we’re at about 20 percent,” Talcott said, referring to the percentage of color change in the canyon flora. “If you look through the trees right there, you can see that patch that is lightening. And there’s lightening up on the cliff there. And lightening of the trees around us here, too.

“I said it was at 10 percent when I was up here yesterday,” she said. “But when my report comes out tomorrow, it’ll say 20 percent.”

Dogbane is already a bright yellow throughout much of the canyon.
Kevin Woster
Dogbane is already a bright yellow throughout much of the canyon.

It’s heading toward 100 percent autumn color, probably sometime between the 20th of September and the first few days in October. Check the Spearfish Chamber and Talcott’s updated reports to keep track. You don’t want to miss it, as some canyon fans always fear they will do.

“Toward the end of the season, I start to get frantic emails from people saying things like: ‘I’m coming out the first week in October. Will I miss it?’” Talcott said

Maybe. Maybe not. But even if the peak has past, some of the color lingers for a while.

And for now, the fall magic is really just getting started in the canyon. It’s not something you’ll want to miss if you have the time and means to get there.

You might even see Kimberly Talcott. And if you get all emotional about your surroundings, don’t worry. She won’t think you’re weird at all.

Click here to access the archive of Woster's past work for SDPB.