Getting ready

motorcycles
(Jeff Moberg photo)

Officials prepare for the largest Sturgis Motorcycle Rally yet

By Sarah Pridgeon

 

With the 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally set to bring more visitors to the Black Hills than ever before, local officials and businesses are already preparing for the influx. From fully booked hotel rooms to extra law enforcement, advance preparations are underway to meet the needs of up to one million motorcyclists this August.

“I think everybody agrees that the rally is going to be much larger than it has ever been before. I think the community of Sundance needs to talk about improving the experience for those folks coming here so that they want to come back or potentially even relocate here,” says Paul Brooks, Mayor of Sundance.

“We’re talking somewhere in the 24-25 percent increase from the biggest rally we’ve ever seen, a huge number of people. Just to accommodate them is not going to be easy, to improve their experience is going to be very difficult.”

 

Limited vacancy

Local motel bookings support the rumors that attendance at this year’s rally could more than double. David Mathis reports that rooms began filling up early at the Rodeway Inn and Best Western Motel.

“Bookings for rally broke into a frenzy in early September 2014, much earlier than usual,” he comments.

“Both hotels were fully booked through Wednesday of rally.”

Closer to the epicenter in Sturgis, he adds, hotels could command around $500 per room during the event.

“We still have a few rooms available for the last three days of rally, [but we’ve had] amazing early demand and zero rate resistance,” Mathis says.

Ken Parmar of the Bearlodge Motel agrees. Though this will be his first time catering to the rally crowd after taking over the motel at the end of last summer, he too has noticed a high level of demand.

“Currently, we are totally booked for the rally and still we have people asking for reservations,” he says.

“I’m trying my best to accommodate the previous owners’ goodwill customers.”

Though plenty of the motel’s occupants will be previous rally-goers, he adds, he has also had a number of online reservations from new visitors.

“I have seen that people are making reservations before the rally and after the rally – they know that it’s going to be very heavily crowded,” he says.

“[I’ve been told] they’re starting earlier than they used to in Sturgis and winding it up later after the rally.”

 

Older and wiser

Some rally veterans are predicting that this year’s crowd may differ slightly from usual.

“It may be an older group,” says Brooks.

“What they’re telling me is that a lot of these people made it to the 50th and they can get to the 75th, but they won’t make the 100th, so I think we’re going to have a very calm, older crowd.”

Sheriff Jeff Hodge agrees, noting that the rally overall has undergone changes in its demographics.

“The rally is not how it used to be. I think the crowd has been getting older every year,” he says.

“From back in the old days to now, the crowd is a lot mellower, they’re older and they tend to keep things quieted down a bit more. It’s inexperienced riders that have the accidents a lot of the time.”

 

Shoring up for emergencies

At the Crook County Sheriff’s Office, preparations have begun to ensure that sufficient law enforcement is available for rally week – and that no potential emergency is left to chance.

“As far as law enforcement is concerned, we’ve been doing this long enough that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We’ve got eight to ten people coming up to pair up with our officers that are on the street now, most of them have been up here before,” says Sheriff Hodge.

“Traffic will be our main issue, along with the stray criminal activity, which is sometimes not even rally-related.”

The extra officers will be spread across the county, centrally located between Beulah, Hulett and Sundance and also in Moorcroft. Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office must consider incidents that could occur concurrently with the rally.

“My biggest concern is our communications to do with fire. I’m working with Homeland Security and they’re going to bring another communications trailer up in case things blow up and we’ve got fires,” says the sheriff.

“My biggest worry is that our communications center gets overwhelmed. With all the towns bringing extra officers and us having extra officers, with a big fire breaking out they could get overwhelmed, and if that happens, [Homeland Security] will be able to assist us.”

The county is also expecting extra traffic and congestion during the event, for which traffic control will be necessary.

“Highway Patrol is going to bring more stop lights out and put them at Hwys 24 and 111, I think the frontage road on Hwy 111 and possibly up by Devils Tower. That’ll help with some of the congestion and accidents,” Hodge says.

“We’re coordinating with LifeFlight to try to get pre-designated landing zones and once again communications with them. There are going to be a lot of bikers but I think it’ll be spread out, though obviously our big day is the Wednesday.”

On the other hand, he adds, the extra visitors could bring their own version of a silver lining to the roads of Crook County.

“We’ve seen in the past that, the more bikes you have, the fewer accidents you have, because they don’t have the chance to get their speed up,” says the sheriff.

Improving the experience

For the City of Sundance, preparing for this year’s rally will not merely be a case of addressing the city’s infrastructure.

“More garbage, more sanitation and portapotties too,” says Clerk Treasurer Kathy Lenz.

“It’s nice this year because the Chamber of Commerce has designated other groups to look at it. It doesn’t all fall on the city this year, we can all work together.”

As well as hiring the usual two extra police officers and booking more portapotties than usual, the Sundance City Council must consider questions such as whether to allow extra vendor permits and how to improve traffic control.

“One of the things I really hope we can do is to have some added traffic control so that we can get them in and out of town. My big concern is that, to get into town, you have to turn across traffic,” says the mayor.

“I think that, if we don’t make it easy, they’ll sit there in the middle of the street looking at the place they want to be, which is downtown, and I think they’ll get frustrated and blow on through.”

The council will also consider whether to allow more permits for malt beverages and foods during the rally’s busiest day.

“I would love to think that the council will allow some extra concessions,” Brooks adds.

“I understand there’s some law enforcement issues associated with that but the fact of the matter is that, if there are 25 percent more people, we’re going to have to have added concessions just to accommodate them.”

Overall, the city hopes to have its plans in place ahead of time and be ready to welcome the bikers to enjoy their experience.

“While normally we don’t even begin to talk about rally until the June timeframe, we’ve been talking about it since before the first of the year,” says Brooks.

“I think we need to continue that dialogue, I think we need to incorporate the opinions of the various groups talking about it and try to have the best possible tourist experience for those coming to Sundance.”