Annual Burning Beetle is Saturday

For a decade, hundreds have marched — torches in hand — chanting the familiar phrase, “Burn, Beetle, Burn!” This year’s Burning Beetle will be held Saturday, Jan. 21, and is packed full of fun, art and community spirit.
Eleven years ago, the Burning Beetle was created to help the Custer community and the Black Hills come to grips with a beetle pandemic. While this is the 11th year of celebrating the event, this is the 10th year the beetle effigy has been annually torched.
“When the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic hit our forest, the initial response from the community was one of disbelief, anger and depression,” said Hank Fridell, organizer of the event. “We were losing our sacred forest and people were upset. The Black Hills were changing.”
The community of Custer — residents, forestry experts, legislators and every one in between — came together to do what they could to protect forests and properties.
“From there, we decided to celebrate who we are and where we live,” Fridell added.
The two-day event kicks off Friday evening, January 20, with a pre-crawl at South Dakota Outdoor Shop, Custer Wolf and the Gold Pan Saloon in Custer. Each venue will have music, starting at varying times.
On Saturday, Jan. 21, it’s time to celebrate the decade milestone of burning the beetle. The festivities begin at 3 p.m. with the variety show, held at Custer Jr./Sr. High School. The show boasts a bevy of talent from across the Black Hills and is a donation-based entry. The show returns after a two-year hiatus.
Prior to the show, there will be the chance to purchase 2023 Burning Beetle memorabilia, including sweatshirts and torch tickets.
After the variety show, revelers who have torch-bearer tickets — and even those who just want to march with the group — will meet at the Custer Jr./Sr. High School parking lot. There is a limited number of tickets; the cost for a ticket is $20.
Around 5:15 p.m., the group will march to Pageant Hill to burn the beetle. Joining in the march will be drummers from Custer High School band, as well as large puppets created by the Butterfly Puppet Theatre. The torch marchers will set fire to the beetle (around 5:30 p.m.) and a fireworks display will be provided by the Custer Volunteer Fire Department. Times do vary, so it is best to plan to be at Pageant Hill prior to 5:15 p.m., should people plan to watch the march and burning.
While the Burning Beetle event has always been a way for the community to gather, there’s also a serious side to it as well.
“The bonfire and fireworks are a call, warning people to take action to stop insects and disease and the conditions that favor bark beetles and fires before they happen,” Fridell said. “Just because the bark beetle epidemic is over for now doesn’t mean the threats to the forest have ended.”
The night will end with the Bug Crawl, a pub crawl in downtown Custer. This year’s sponsored venues include the Custer Wolf, Old Pine Social, Gold Pan Saloon, Calamity Jane’s and Custer Beacon.
Volunteers are needed to continue to run and grow the event.
For more information or if you’re interested in volunteering in the future, contact Fridell at hank or (605) 440-1405 or Carrie Moore at (269) 861-1106.

User login