Photo by Marcus Heerdt/Fall River County Herald-Star
A view from the air of Ivan and Colleen Venner’s hangar home (bottom center) as well as the Black Hills Flyway, the grass airstrip that runs parallel to Black Hills Flyway Road. The 2780 x 100-foot airfield is located approximately 5 miles southwest of Hot Springs. After purchasing the property, the Venners worked hard to make the runway serviceable again.
By Marcus Heerdt
HOT SPRINGS – For the first time in its known existence, there are now permanent, year-round airplanes housed onsite at the Black Hills Flyway thanks to aviation enthusiasts Ivan and Colleen Venner.
The 2780 x 100-foot grass airfield is located approximately 5 miles southwest of Hot Springs high atop the eastern ridgeline of Alabaugh Canyon. Many have probably driven past the “Black Hills Flyway Road” street sign along Highway 71 (Cascade Road) and wondered what it was.
The Venners recently built a “hangar home” at the airfield, a structure that is half a home to live in and half a place to store their airplane.
“We kind of just fell into this,” Colleen said. “When we retired, we were looking for a place to live out in the country and just stumbled onto this airfield.”
Ivan is a retired airline pilot of more than 30 years, and flew all across the United States for a number of different airline companies until his retirement in 2019.
The Venners are both originally from central South Dakota, and moved to Hot Springs in the spring of 2020. Through word of mouth the couple learned about the Black Hills Flyway, and eventually bought the runway and a large tract of land that is now subdivided into individual lots.
Ivan and Colleen enjoy “backcountry flying,” something that is gaining in popularity around the nation.
“Backcountry flying is where pilots with small planes fly to different small airstrips in rural parts of the country,” Ivan said. “There are a lot of retired commercial airline pilots like myself that do it, as well as many new young people. When we discovered the Black Hills Flyway, we said to ourselves, ‘let’s make a backcountry airport.’”
The original idea for the Black Hills Flyway dates all the way back to the late 1970s, when four North Dakotans purchased the property with the vision of combining “the convenience of flying with the excitement of owning your dream home in the beautiful Black Hills.”
An article in the Nov. 22, 1978, edition of the Hot Springs Star regarding the flyway begins: “Would it sound far-fetched to you if someone told you that someday a group of investors would buy a ranch near Hot Springs and build an airstrip in the middle of a land development? This is exactly what four North Dakotans are doing on the former Wayne Shelstead Ranch [formerly owned by Bus Halls] six miles south of Hot Springs on Highway 71.”
Although the flyway was used occasionally, the housing development never really took off until now, as Ivan said that they have sold all of their subdivided lots, with more hangar homes expected to be built in the near future.
“The original visionaries were 40 years too early,” Ivan remarked.
Ivan said that the grass airfield sat unused for a long period of time, and was damaged by the heavy equipment used during the Alabaugh Canyon Fire of 2007.
The Venners brought in a total of 32 tons of compost and black dirt and reseeded the airstrip to make it serviceable again, and the airfield was “activated” in September 2021.
The Black Hills Flyway appears on printed and digital aviation maps as SD27, its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) code, and pilots must obtain permission from the Venners before landing.
Ivan said that his aircraft radio is on all the time if pilots were needing to contact him, and the flyway can be found on the set frequency of 122.9.
“There is so much potential here for the flyway, we really could be the backcountry flying gateway to the entire Black Hills,” Colleen said.