Ron Walker publishes debut book

Esther Noe

Hill City has a new author in town, and the public can purchase an autographed copy of his debut book May 11 at Jon Crane Gallery & Custom Framing. Many residents will likely already know the author since Ron Walker has served as a pastor at the Little White Church (LWC) and as a planning & zoning commissioner.
After 25 years working on the project, Walker’s book, “Park Song: Personal Encounters with the Natural World in Custer State Park,” was published and released.
Walker has always enjoyed writing, even in grade school and high school, but he never did anything with it.
“I came to South Dakota in 1974 and worked for the State Forestry Division for five years, ending up in Lead running a mountain pine beetle project. Then we moved to Custer State Park (CSP) in 1979 where I shortly became in charge of our natural resources programs, which included a timber-management program, range, wildlife, fire and buffalo,” said Walker.
While in CSP, Walker and his family lived at the north farm, which is the only home on Iron Mountain Road in the north boundary of the park.
One day, Walker heard a friend talking to the news media about the Buffalo Roundup.
“I thought to myself, ‘Man, I could do better than that,’” said Walker. “So I sat down, and I wrote a poem. It just kind of rolled off.”
The poem is called “Sunday” and is included in Walker’s book.
“So that was the beginning of it,” said Walker. “It’s been about a 25-year project, occasionally writing some things.”
Walker began writing more poetry. Although the poems lay around for some time, Walker said he had enough sense to put them in a folder.
“I tried to stick with traditional styles of poetry. I did ballads, sonnets—there’s a few other types in there too,” said Walker. “I like the old styles. It really forces you into the craft of words as opposed to more of this free verse.”
As a result, 95 percent of Walker’s poems are in traditional styles.
His memories were fresh on the page since he started working on the project while living in CSP. As time passed, Walker said the project brought back a lot of memories.
“Memories are kind of funny things. We think we have just drawers full of them, and when you really start to put things down on paper, you really don’t remember as much as you thought you did,” said Walker.
In 2005 Walker left CSP upon an invitation to pastor  LWC. He served there from 2005-16 and then “tried to retire.”
Walker said, “There was kind of a burst of writing after I retired from LWC trying to fill this thing out and get it done.”
By that time, Walker had collected a number of poems and started meeting with Kristin Donnen.
“I was interested in publishing my poems, and she kind of pushed me to add a little more flesh to it,” said Walker. “It sat around for a long time after that until my son Adam said, ‘This is your Father’s Day present. We’re going to get this thing published.’ Without him, I wouldn’t have tried to brave the publishing world anymore.”
As it turns out, the president of Big Water Press was one of Adam’s classmates. Hence, the publication process began.
For the title “Park Song,” Walker said, “That’s what I’ve always called it. Even in its infant stage, I had to call it something so that’s what I’ve always called it. And finally I decided, well, that’s probably a good enough title.”
“Park Song” is half poetry and half prose, and Walker said, “Everything in it is true.”
“The whole book is snapshots of what resource management was like in the years 1979 to 2005. So it’s a little bit of a historical portrait,” said Walker.
It is written in a memoir style, and the proses are primarily historical.
The process involved a lot of editing, but Walker had previously invested “a fair amount” in editing the manuscript.
Before attempting publication, a former English professor at the University of South Dakota critiqued Walker’s writing style and gave him pointers. A journalist for the Rapid City Journal went through it, asking questions and clarifying things. A member of  LWC even asked to edit it because she enjoyed the process. Adam did some editing too.
“The heavy lifting as far as editing was helped by others,” said Walker.
Then Walker went to the sites that inspired the poems and took pictures. From here, JK Dooley created pointillism illustrations for the interior and cover of the book.
The publisher put all the pieces together, and “Park Song” was published Nov. 9, 2023.
“I like it. I still enjoy reading it. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but it’s still a fun read. Hopefully, people enjoy it too,” said Walker.
“Another incentive to write that is to leave something for my grandkids,” said Walker. “I guess you always want to leave a piece of yourself with your generations to follow.”
As such, “Park Song” is dedicated to Walker’s grandchildren.
This is Walker’s first book, but he is already thinking about writing another poetry book.
“You kind of have to be inspired. I haven’t been inspired for poetry for quite a while, but I’m hoping that juices can start to flow again,” said Walker.
In the meantime, Walker has a book signing for “Park Song” at Jon Crane Gallery & Custom Framing on Hill City Main Street May 11 from 1-3 p.m. Copies of the book will be available to purchase for $20.
For those who cannot attend the event, “Park Song” is available on Amazon. Locally, “Park Song” will be available at the Hill City Public Library, Jon Crane Gallery & Custom Framing and an inquiry has been made to High Country Guest Ranch.
The book will also be available at the State Game Lodge in CSP.
“I was excited to get that venue for sales,” said Walker. He hopes to get a booth at the arts festival during the Buffalo Roundup as well.

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