Created out of tragedy, the space now known as Memorial Park is a vibrant centerpiece in the sprawling greenspace that extends throughout the city and traces the banks of Rapid Creek. Nestled just across the street from Downtown Rapid City, this park brings together family-friendly recreation, scenic beauty, and thought-provoking memorials.
Join us for a journey around the park to learn more about it and the interesting sights found within starting from:
Legacy Commons Playground
Established in 2014, Legacy Commons is the perfect starting point for a day of outdoor fun in Rapid City if you’re traveling with kids. This park features five distinct play areas designed to encourage children to explore and learn together. Not only is it a hub for physical activity but also sparks creativity with its sensory and creative-play options, including a delightful treasure hunt to find hidden animals and fossils.
The grand walkway is the main entrance into Memorial Park. Established in 2014, it serves as a picturesque gateway to the park across the street from the vibrant Downtown Rapid City. Its design and location make it an inviting starting point for a leisurely stroll through the park's offerings.
The Legacy Statue
Legacy is a stunning creation by renowned local artist Dale Lamphere, and is a powerful symbol of South Dakota's rich history and promising future. Placed in the park in 1990, this masterpiece serves as a tribute to the state's centennial observance. With Dale Lamphere's remarkable touch, the statue beautifully encapsulates the essence of South Dakota's past, present, and future, making it a must-see focal point for park visitors. You can find more of Dale’s work in Rapid City in front of Prairie Edge with Tying of the Eagle Plume or “Hunkayapi” and across the street with We Are All Related or “Mitakuye Oyasin”.
The massive 11-foot-tall, 9,000 pound slab of granite standing in the center of Memorial Park’s Promenade is called Rockspinner 6. This kinetic art sculpture required three individuals and a crane to place. Originating from Stone Mountain, Georgia, this captivating artwork stands as a testament to human creativity and engineering. Mounted on a bearing-filled base, it elegantly balances on a specially made platform, inviting park-goers to appreciate the harmony of art and science.
The Black Hills War Monument
Have a moment of silence in front of the Black Hills War Monument, a powerful symbol of unity and gratitude. The memorial was dedicated in 1991 through a collaborative effort between the VFW Post 1273 and the Ellsworth Air Force Base community. Situated atop a stone generously donated by Crazy Horse Memorial® founder Ruth Ziolkowski, this monument pays tribute to Black Hills Veterans from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm/1st Iraqi War. Its six granite walls bear the engraved names of nearly 700 fallen military members and honor POW/MIA heroes from all wars. For those seeking to delve into the stories behind the names, a QR code on-site offers access to rich military histories. The Black Hills War Monument stands as a reminder of our nation's enduring gratitude to those who served and sacrificed for our freedom.
The Leonard “Swanny” Swanson Memorial Pathway
The official name of the Rapid City Bike Path serves as a testament to the vision and dedication of Leonard Swanson, who served as Public Works Director for 34 years in Rapid City. Following the devastating flood of 1972, Swanson played a pivotal role as the City’s Urban Renewal Director, ensuring that homes were not rebuilt along Rapid Creek. Instead, he conceived the idea of creating beautiful spaces like Memorial Park along a greenway. In 2009, this remarkable pathway was dedicated in his honor.
The bike path stretches over 10 miles alongside Rapid Creek, seamlessly connecting key locations such as Canyon Lake, Sioux Park, Founders Park, and the site of the Black Hills Farmers Market. Leonard Swanson's legacy lives on through this scenic route, providing residents and visitors alike with an opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of Rapid City while commemorating the man whose foresight and dedication made it all possible.
The Memorial Fountain
The Memorial Park Fountain is a tribute within the park dedicated to the victims, survivors, and heroes of the 1972 Flood in Rapid City. This tragic event claimed 238 lives, injured over 3,000 people, and caused more than $160 million in damages. The fountain symbolizes the city's resilience and displays the height of the flood waters, along with inscribed names of those lost. This tragedy reshaped Rapid City's landscape, adding approximately 1,200 acres to the city park system. Remarkably, the city now boasts an impressive 20 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, double the recommended standard set by the National Recreation and Parks Association.
At the heart of the park lies Memorial Pond. This central feature is a fun spot for anglers, as it's stocked with rainbow trout, providing a convenient spot for those with a South Dakota fishing license to cast their lines. Benches surround the pond where visitors can sit and take in the serene scenery, making it a perfect place to unwind and connect with nature in the heart of the city.
The Berlin Wall
History buffs love the chunks of history found at the Berlin Wall exhibit within Memorial Park. These pieces, installed in 1996, were originally part of a successful traveling Berlin Wall exhibit that visited the campus of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Featuring two panels of the wall along with two tank traps, the exhibit is surrounded by informative plaques detailing the history of the Berlin Wall. At first glance it seems a rather unexpecting setting, but when you recognize Rapid City's proximity to Mount Rushmore and its connection to the Ellsworth Air Force Base, which contributed to the 1940s Berlin Airlift humanitarian mission, it makes the unexpected a little more fitting.
The Scotty Backens Memorial
The Scotty Backens Memorial is a touching tribute within the park. The memorial was created by local sculptor John Lopez, who was the artist behind the City of Presidents statues for JFK, Calvin Coolidge, Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, James Garfield, and Jimmy Carter. This memorial, placed in 2010, honors Scotty Backens, a beloved figure in Rapid City. Scotty was not only a fixture in the community but also a passionate advocate for people with disabilities. This memorial also serves as a reminder of the importance of inclusivity, as it stands as an Americans with Disabilities Act Tribute Memorial, celebrating the value of equal access for all members of the community.
Memorial Park is a blend of history, nature, and community spirit that’s worth exploring in Rapid City. The park is also home to annual events throughout the year like Hills Alive and the fan favorite pumpkin catapults during The Great Downtown Pumpkin Festival. Find more things to explore during a visit to Rapid City by dropping your information into this form and we’ll send you monthly newsletters highlighting all the great things to do and see in our area.