By: Wioletta Olszowiec, Work and Travel Employer Services Coordinator

Custer State Park is a state park and wildlife reserve in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota. The park is South Dakota’s largest and first state park. It’s perfect for those who love outdoor activities and spectacular scenery. It is also a place where CCI Greenheart J-1 Summer Work Travel participants have been lucky to work for the last few summers.

On Sunday, July 27th, my colleague Ben Baney and I, along with a group of 16 J-1 Summer Work Travel participants, Custer State Park staff and Department of State officials participated in a Greenheart Service Project in Custer State Park.

After an overview of the park (including wildlife and history), and the project, we departed for an area called “Buffalo Corral,” where we removed rocks from the hillside, a popular viewing point for the Annual Buffalo Roundup.

The Annual Buffalo Roundup draws thousands of people to Custer State Park every September. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd of more than 1000 buffalo.

During the Greenheart Service Project, we helped clean the hillside from loose rocks. It was a great opportunity for the participants to explore what it means to volunteer.

A few participants did not realize that removing rocks was a volunteer activity. However, after discussing how removing the rocks improved public safety in the park, all understood and agreed that there are important and different ways of volunteering.

We finished the afternoon, recharging batteries at the cookout hosted by a popular employer in the area.

Meeting with participants and volunteering in the event was the highlight of our trip. However, I have to say that the second best moment was our 1 on 1 encounter with a buffalo family, while Ben and I were leaving Custer Park the next morning. It was after this moment, that we felt our trip complete.