Hill City is the oldest existing city in Pennington County, South Dakota, United States. The population was 948 at the 2010 census. Hill City is located 26 miles (42 km) southwest of Rapid City on State Highway 16 and on U.S. Route 385 that connects Deadwood to Hot Springs. Hill City is known as the "Heart of the Hills" which is derived from its close proximity to both the geographical center of the Black Hills, and the local tourist destinations.
The city has its roots in the Black Hills mining rush of the late 19th century. Tin mining was dominant in the 1880s and led to an influx of capital and people into the area. As the mining industry subsequently waned, tourism and timber became increasingly important to the area. With the establishment of Mount Rushmore in the 1940s, Custer State Park, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the Black Hills became known as a tourist destination which Hill City benefited from. In recent years the city has diversified to become a center for the arts in the area featuring several art studios and festivals.
The main railroad lines that intersected Hill City are the Burlington Northern Line (also called the High line), previously the Grand Island and Wyoming Central, operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company, and the Black Hills central line a spur that extended from Hill City to Keystone. The Northern line extended from Edgemont north through Hill City and terminated in Deadwood. Hill City was reached by this line in 1893, and the central line was extended to Keystone and reached there on January 20, 1900. Narrow gauge trolley cars were operated at 45 minute intervals during the day on the northern line. The Northern line was discontinued for passenger service in 1949, and was fully abandoned in 1983. It is now the George S. Mickelson Trail after being converted to a bike trail during the 1990s.
Employment in Hill City is based on the timber, tourism, and telecommunications industries. The timber industry is important to Hill City since it is located in the Black Hills National Forest. Rushmore Forest Products runs a lumber mill outside of town and is the area's largest employer. Tourism is enabled by Hill City's proximity to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Several local attractions, restaurants, souvenir shops, and art galleries cater to those visiting the area. RMA & Associates, a telecommunications company responsible for telephone surveying, has a call center in Hill City.
Hill City School District 51-2 and is made up of elementary, middle, and high schools located in separate building on the same campus. A permanent school building was constructed in 1921 and housed all grades until an elementary school building was constructed in 1961 with several modifications in the 1980s. The Middle School was built in the 1970s with several additions in the 1990s. After the middle school was built the original school building became the high school building. In 2001, construction was begun on a new high school which was completed in 2002. The previous high school was razed in 2003. Hill City District 51-2 schools are predominantly funded through property tax on those living in the school district. The district also has adopted an open enrollment policy that makes it easier to transfer between local school districts.
Sports and recreation:
Hill City High School is a member of the South Dakota High School Activities Association and competes in class "A". Because students helped to fight a wildfire that threatened the community in 1939, the school's mascot is Smokey Bear, and the fight song is Marines' Hymn. High School Boys compete in basketball, football, track and field, cross country, and wrestling. High School Girls compete in basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, track and field, cross country, and golf.
Outdoor Sports popular in the area include hiking, mountain climbing, snowmobiling and dogsled racing. Hill City is ninth trailhead on the George S. Mickelson Trail that runs from Deadwood, to Edgemont. This trail is often used for running, cycling, and snowmobiling in the winter. Snowmobiling is also enjoyed in the area with groomed paths running through Hill City and the surrounding Black Hills. There are 350 miles (560 km) of groomed trails in the area. Two snowmobiling magazines have rated the Black Hills as one of the best places to ride in North America.