LEAD | Listen long enough as winds comb through the boughs of towering pines and you’ll hear the century-old whispers of steam-fired trains chugging through the forest to service the fabled Homestake Gold Mine.
Now, more than 100 years after hundreds of faceless miners scraped and blasted a rail bed through the remotest regions of the Black Hills, hikers and mountain bikers have the opportunity to retrace the route of a narrow-gauge railroad that brought needed supplies from Deadwood to its sister city of Lead and the Homestake Mine.
The new three-mile Homestake Railroad Grade Trail returns to life a major transportation portal that traces its origins to 1890, when the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad constructed the line to haul myriad supplies to the burgeoning gold camp of Lead.
According to Rick Mills, director of the South Dakota State Railroad Museum in Hill City, the region’s newest hiking trail allows outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to explore a segment of Black Hills history that has virtually been erased over time.
“It’s significant because this was one of the lines that has not really been explored by historians,” Mills said last week. “Three tiers of tracks once existed in Lead, so this allows people to see how they used the grades, the contours of the land, to see Pluma and the east side of Lead.”
Mills also said the new trail, established courtesy of an easement from Barrick Gold Corp., the Canadian company that purchased the Homestake Mine and its land holdings, presents vistas that allow hikers to view the ethnic neighborhoods of Lead, as well as the historic neighborhoods of Deadwood.