Michael Egan/Fall River County Herald
Angostura State Park Recreation Area has up to 20 volunteers at the height of the season. Pictured here are the present staff, from left: Mike Gillen (wife Karla not present), Jason Cash, Joseph McGinnis, newcomer Ruth Lemmon, Joan Deutsch and Odean Deutsch. Others not present for the photo are Sheps Canyon Campground hosts Henry and Susan Henk. Cash (second from left), who is actually the seventh cousin of the legendary Johnny Cash, was the 2018 Volunteer of the Year for the State of South Dakota. When he first came to Angostura he was in a wheel-chair. He first started volunteering using a cane and leg-braces.
Get to know the people who quietly make our local state park one of the best
By Michael Egan
HOT SPRINGS - “We like repeat offenders,” Hat Creek Campground host Mike Gillen jokingly comments, smiling, shaking his head. “Guests…” he corrects himself. Mike spent 24 years in the Navy and has been around the world in both directions, but is more than content to be a host at Angostura.
Mike and Karla Gillian have been a part of the Volunteer Host Program at Angostura State Park for the past four summers. “A couple and their two kids from Fort Collins, Colorado, camped here last summer, and they have been sending letters to us all winter and are coming back this summer,” Mike said, commenting on what brings him the most joy about being a volunteer camp host, and is typical of all the volunteers. “There’s a lot to like here.” he adds.
Angostura offers 36 miles of shoreline with sandy beaches on a clear water lake with great views, wildlife and bird viewing on occasion, four campgrounds, swimming, boating, fishing, fish cleaning stations, a resort with restaurant, picnic areas, playgrounds, friendly staff and volunteers, reasonable fees, cabin rentals, kayak and canoe rentals, good roads, group sheltered picnic areas…a place to find some peace of mind or just have fun with friends and family.
“We like to be a good example…and then the campers follow suit,” comments Joan Deutsch about keeping the campground in such fine condition. She and her husband Odean have been campground hosts for the past 15 years “It’s the visiting children that bring us the most joy.” They both agree.
Jason Cash, Volunteer of the Year for the entire State, who suffers from a nerve disease called Dystopia came out to Angostura with his wife Heather (who works in Hot Springs) three years ago and live in their camper. Jason was in a wheelchair then but soon started volunteering using a cane and leg braces.
“I owe Angostura a lot…this place has helped me mentally and physically…everybody who is a part of this park…Angostura is great therapy,” Cash saidl
“Jason is our only year-round volunteer,” comments District Park Supervisor Jason Gooder with a gleam. “He is our all around volunteer who does so many different things.”
In the winter Cash helps plow roads, maintain cabins and comfort stations, and in the summer also helps maintain campgrounds, picks up trash, and just helps out as needed.
“The sights and the sounds of the nature prevalent at Angostura and the positive vibes…just working here in this environment is the greatest therapy there is,” Cash exclaims in a positive manner. “I enjoy it here, I love it here…it can’t get any better than this.”
Angostura is Spanish for ‘narrows’ and the original dam was built on the Cheyenne River in 1949. It has an average depth of 29’ and is 75’ at the deepest.
Walleye, Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass, Crappie, Northern Pike, Perch, Catfish and Bluegill are all present in Angostura.
“It’s all great here,” comments volunteer Cheyenne Campground host Joseph McGinnis, “People enjoying themselves…I get to look out on this everyday.”
Joseph, who worked for Chrysler for 32 years, is a Purple Heart recipient from the Vietnam War, who was wounded twice; once from shrapnel and the other from a bullet that struck his leg. He recounts when he was with the 25th Company infantry division in 1966, when he and some 150 men were overrun by a regiment of North Vietnamese Army 800 strong. Ted Belcher, who was in his group actually threw himself on top of a grenade to save six others close-by and became a Medal of Honor recipient – the highest award of valor there is…and the greatest demonstration of love that can displayed according to Jesus Christ…who said there was no greater love than for one to lay down one’s life for a friend.
Joseph has a great attitude about just being alive and in one piece and wonders at the beauty that surrounds him at Angostura.
“This is family,” he describes the Volunteers at Angostura and has never witnessed any bickering.
Angostura will be hosting an open house on the weekend starting May 17, when there will be no entrance fee and free fishing.
“Just another day,” comments park employee Keith Maisel with a smile.