Custer gearing up for annual Burning Beetle Festival

CUSTER, S.D. (KOTA TV) - What started as an outlet to voice their frustration of the devastation that the Mountain Pine Beetle has been causing in the Black Hills is now in it's 5th year.

Event organizers are working on the wooden beetle for it's eventual demise on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018.

The festival starts at 3 p.m. with a variety show at Custer High School. Event goers then have an option to purchase a torch for $5 dollars before they head up to Pageant Hill for the burning of the beetle and fireworks display. Afterwards, there will be a bug crawl starting at 6 p.m. that features 16 bands playing across eight venues. The bug crawl is $10 dollars.

"In 2007, people in Custer and all over the Black Hills were very worried about the Mountain Pine Beetle and how it was killing millions of trees," said Hank Fridell, an event coordinator for the festival. "Many of us were impacted and we were angry, we were upset, we were confused and so we decided as a community to have a conversation about our relationship to the environment and what was happening. So we've had a number of events and those have evolved into the burning beetle."

And since then the festival continues to grow. According to Fridell, it used to attract a few hundred people but last year broke 1,000 people easily.

"We've seen a big increase in a number of community people involved and not just showing up to the event, but volunteering to help with the whole process." said Fridell. "The other thing we've seen a big increase is in the number of people from out of Custer, in the region and also from out-of-state who were coming in. I recently had a conversation with a couple of people yesterday from Kansas who drove in for the event."

For more information on the festival or the event organizers visit