The Mammoth Project
The Landmark Mammoth Project began in 2003 when Hot Springs developer, Steve Simunek and retired General Motors vice president, John Rock were brainstorming about how to put the town of Hot Springs, South Dakota on the map. Literally the tourist map for the Black Hills, Bad Lands and Lakes Association stopped just north of Hot Springs. The town needed increased traffic and the question was how to create it.
Capturing the attention of the thousands of vacationers that passed the turn off to Hot Springs each summer on their way to the many attractions that had already made it “on to the map” became their goal. Why not a mammoth Mammoth?
After one of their early brainstorming sessions the pair was riding in Simunek’s truck and pulled up next to sculptor Gary DuChateau in his truck at a stop sign. Simunek hollered out the window at DuChateau, “How would you like to do a sculpture of a mammoth 10 times life size?” and a classic “South Dakota Roadside Conference” began. Both drivers turned off their engines right there at the intersection and the three began to discuss just what it would take to make the massive idea a reality.
A hill at the northwest corner of the HWY 79/HWY 18 intersection provided great visibility and was already owned by Simunek. It was an ideal site for the monumentally eye-catching Mammoth sculpture, but also had space for the creation of the tourist destination that the team had ultimately envisioned. The site provided plenty of room for a great parking lot, state of the art visitor and education center, and a whole family of mammoths along with giant sculptures of a saber tooth tiger and other extinct animals of the Pliocene era.
DuChateau is especially suited to the project as an experienced sculptor in stone and bronze and owner/operator of DuChateau Sculpture Services, a company that enlarges sculptures for monumental instillations. He began research on the Woolly Mammoth and constructed a 12-inch model that was cast in a limited bronze edition. He then enlarged the piece to 4 feet tall and used it to point-up the pieces of the 9 times larger final statue.
In 2005, construction was well underway. John Rock, though still very supportive, had moved on to other projects, but Steve Simunek and Gary DuChateau were still all in. The project was originally planned to be cast in bronze and ten times life size, but the estimated $3 million price tag led the pair to make some modifications. A shift was made from bronze to a very sturdy commercial stucco coating made by Dryvit. This cement coating can be colored appropriately and in addition to its durability is easy to repair if necessary. The majestic monster was also scaled down to a more reasonable 3 times life-size, making it 36 feet tall, and 50 feet long and reinforced concrete columns extend 38 feet into the ground to anchor the beast in the high winds common at the top of the hill. The structure will still be so tall that given its location on the hill and the landing pattern of the local airport, approval was needed from the FAA. The installation is being done in 3 ft layers from the feet to the top of the head. Each layer may not be installed until the layer above it is cut. This assures that all the layers will match up once they are on site. Construction was delayed by the economic consequences of the real estate crash of 2008, but due to fund raising efforts over the past three years another 6 feet was installed in the summer of 2017, completing most of the mammoth body and reaching 25’ in height.
Plans are underway to create a Non-profit Organization to continue working on the project.