The South Dakota Army National Guard construction and improvement project on the grounds of the NFAA Easton Yankton Archery Center was a long time coming, but is scheduled for completion this month.
In June, members of the 155th Vertical Engineer Company based in Wagner and Rapid City set up camp at the Yankton archery complex and made needed improvements to the local non-profit organization that has, over time, become the largest archery center in the world.
NFAA President Bruce Cull spoke recently with the Press & Dakotan about the work and the lengthy application process necessary to retain both funding and skilled labor.
"The guard was here (June 6-21)," Cull said. "We did three comfort stations, which are basically bathrooms with little concession stands and picnic areas, and we did one outdoor classroom — it looks like a big picnic shelter. We use it for teaching different classes in hunting and archery."
The construction work is 90 percent done, Cull said.
"The Guard will come back one weekend, the second weekend of July, and just fine-tune some of the things that they couldn’t do timewise," he said. "It’s an incredible project for us."
Though the Guard provided the skills and labor, the archery center still had to come up with the plans and the money for construction materials, Cull said.
"It’s a really neat project that we were able to get the (help) from two different entities to do (it)," Cull said. "We applied for a grant from South Dakota through the Game, Fish and Parks Department (GFP) and received a grant for the majority of the (building) materials."
That type of funding is available to GFP through the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, also called the Pittman Robertson Act. That act, instituted in 1937, collects taxes on recreational equipment for use by state park entities for up to 75 percent of the cost for approved projects. Allowable projects include the purchase and development of access facilities for public use, hunter education programs, and construction and operation of public target ranges.
"That’s money that is charged on all hunting and sporting recreational equipment — bows and arrows, guns and ammunition, all that kind of stuff — that comes back to the state and the state vets the (application) process again," Cull said. "These (structures) are natural, they are right on ranges, we do the outdoor education through the GFP Hunt Safe Program, we do the Bowhunter education program, we do all the archery classes, the outdoor classes. So it’s a natural (fit)."
The archery center applied for help from the National Guard through the Guard’s Golden Coyote Training Exercise Program.
"The National Guard, every summer they do their Golden Coyote drill and they have their annual training, which is two weeks, and all the groups do their own thing," he said. "We have a long process that we get into that is asking for their assistance in something that we financially could never afford. This is the third time they’ve been here. They have helped us with numerous projects."
Past Guard projects at the complex included the construction of a comfort station and the creation of berms after the flood of 2011. In 2013, the Guard built three permanent ranges where the four temporary ones had been, restored a fishing pond and added a second Olympic-sized field.
The projects go through an extensive vetting process, Cull said.
"First, you have to be a 501(c)(3) (a federally registered non-profit organization)," he said. "You have to show a need for the project and that you can’t afford to do (it) under normal circumstances. These (projects) would come to so much money that there is no way we could ever do them."
There is also the question of what use the project will serve.
"We are doing great things for South Dakota and specifically for Yankton and the whole tri-state area here, really," Cull said. "We are bringing in thousands and thousands of people that utilize what (the Guard) has done. It is an integral part of everything; we couldn’t do it without it."
People often react with surprise that the guard would even be interested in such projects.
"A lot of people in the eastern part of the state are like, ‘Woah! I didn’t know the guard did that,’" Cull said. "It’s because we’ve had a natural place for the Guard to go, which is Custer State Park. That’s where 90 percent of them are. They build bridges, they do earthwork," he said. "One of the things they do here that is very unique is the building of these structures by their vertical crew."
Vertical crews build structures, like houses. National Guard units called to do humanitarian projects abroad might find themselves having to build structures, so practice and training are a big help, Cull said.
"This group that came here, they go all over the world and do that same thing and don’t get a place to really practice and learn the trade," Cull said. "Bricklaying is not something you see every day anymore, and this unit specializes in that."
Cull said that watching the teams work was impressive, noting that the older, more experienced Guardsmen were passing on their skills in multiple aspects of construction, plumbing and electrical to the 18-to-25 year olds.
Prior to the Guard arriving, Cull had to provide approved engineering plans and material lists for all the work for approval.
"Everything has to meet code for the city or the county, wherever you are," he said. "That’s all done long in advance."
The application process took three full years, Cull said. Because there were two grants involved, there was the possibility that one would fall through.
"If we got the Guard but couldn’t get the grant for the materials, then we would have had to go to plan B — which we don’t even know what that would have been," he said.
"It took a full three years," he said "It’s military; it goes through so many different branches and arms and people. They do an excellent job and the end result is what we are sitting here with."
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