Livability in small towns #1: Huron, South DakotaAugust 26, 2010
By Sean Barry
This collection of 12 case studies helps put to rest the idea that livability is an exclusively “urban” idea. Small cities, towns and rural regions across the country are transforming themselves into more livable communities. While some of these communities face formidable threats – from job losses and shrinking populations to disappearing farmland and strained resources – their leaders have forged collaborations and created plans that are growing economies, benefiting people and protecting the land and lifestyles treasured by residents and non-residents alike.
Huron, South Dakota
|“Transit service is a critical element in our infrastructure. Without People’s Transit, there would be a lot of people here living a lower standard of life.”
David McGirr, Mayor of Huron, South Dakota
In Huron, many older residents are able to access groceries and services because of People’s Transit, and the town today is home to its first-ever transit center.
Huron is the county seat of Beadle County, at the midpoint of eastern South Dakota. The city, whose motto is “it’s a brand new day,” was named after the Huron Native American tribe and is home to the South Dakota State Fair, held annually five days before Labor Day. Its population was about 12,000, according to the 2000 Census.
Temperatures in Huron can drop as low as 25 degrees below zero, and with a large senior population, many residents were worried about how their older neighbors in this rural community could access life’s essentials without transportation options. This led, thirty years ago, to the Huron Area Senior Center’s purchase of a cargo van from a federal surplus warehouse. The Board had to round up passenger seats from a car dealer in Aberdeen just to ensure older residents could actually ride it.
People’s Transit, as the system is called, started as a pilot program for the state of South Dakota in the mid-1970s, receiving most of its funding from the Older Americans Act, until 1981 saw the beginning of federal dollars for rural transportation. The service quickly expanded, bringing seniors to meals, recreational activities and health services. In 1975, Huron officials added the first wheelchair-accessible van to the fleet.
In the late 1990s, a building committee was established. Then-City Commissioner and current Mayor David McGirr worked with community members to locate a site for today’s transit center, called Huron’s Great Station. Given South Dakota’s frigid winters, the center had to be energy efficient just to pay the bills. It takes a lot of work to shovel through the parking lot and thaw buses before they go out on the road, but the community has come to heavily rely on the system.
“Transit service is a critical element in our infrastructure,” McGirr said. “Without People’s Transit, there would be a lot of people here living a lower standard of life. If ever they went away, I don’t know how we’d replace them.”