STURGIS – The official start of the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is 114 days away.
But no one, not even Sturgis city officials, know if the annual event, that traditionally draws upwards of a half million motorcycle enthusiasts, will happen this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those interested in knowing the status of this year’s Rally have been
communicating in various ways – phone, email, social media messaging – with city staff, said Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen.
“Some have even said that it doesn’t matter what the city decides, they are still planning to come,” Carstensen said.
But the city isn’t prepared to make a decision just yet.
“I think a bigger discussion, and I don’t necessarily think now is the time, is that if we are going to cancel the rally, we are going to have to cancel all of the events in the summer which is a pretty big situation,” the mayor said. “Before that discussion happens, it makes sense to continue on the path of seeing how this works out over time.”
Rod Woodruff, owner of the Buffalo Chip Campground, said his business also has been fielding many calls about the status of this year’s 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
He said the safety of people is the primary consideration.
“How are you going to do social distancing on Main Street? It’s not possible,” Woodruff said.
People will need to make up their own mind whether or not they come to Sturgis for the Rally, he said.
“Just because somebody says we’re opening the country back up for business doesn’t mean that all of a sudden all these people are going to think I should pack up my motorcycle and drive a thousand miles to go to a crowd,” Woodruff said.
Carstensen said it is pertinent to give a definite schedule of how and when the city will come to a decision about hosting or calling off the rally.
“I also think it is pertinent to say the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is still being planned for and we hope that it still is able to go on,” he said.
At its city council meeting on April 6, Sturgis City Councilman Ron Waterland said he would like to have the city staff develop a decision matrix with respect to COVID data that gives the city a schedule of when they could make a decision about hosting the Rally.
“I’ve had people asking me if we are going to have the rally or not have the Rally. I’d like some sort of a decision matrix developed over the next month or so that gives us a schedule as to when we need to make decisions relative to what the COVID data is showing us,” he said.
Waterland said that would give the city time to either notify people that the Rally is going to be postponed or that the rally is going to go on. Carstensen said he agreed that such a plan should be considered.
But longtime Sturgis resident and former Sturgis Brown High School Principal Rich Deaver said common sense dictates that the event should be postponed for a year.
“If we have even a semblance of a Rally crowd, those of us that live here will be exposed to the threat of being revisited by the COVID-19 virus,” he said. “As a world-wide event, we may see people from virtually every state and country. We will have no idea who is still capable of infecting others.”
Deaver said he realizes what an economic engine the Rally is for Sturgis and much of the Black Hills area, but questions why any thoughtful person would even consider exposing people to such a devastating threat.
“I think I speak for the council when I say that we will put the safety of the citizens first,” Sturgis City Councilwoman Rhea Crane said last week. “I think there is a lot of unrest out there that we are being greedy. I don’t think that is the case. We are just waiting for it all to play out.”
At a news conference earlier this month, Gov. Kristi Noem said there hasn’t been a plan to cancel the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally yet.
“Knowing that we would anticipate peaking in mid-June, we could end up curving down,” Noem said. “We’ll still have infection rates in the state (by) August, but dealing with those events as they come up.”
Woodruff said the Buffalo Chip Campground has a no-refund policy, so they have told Rallygoers that if there is not a Rally this year, they will roll over their pass for the 80th Rally in 2021.
“That’s a real possibility,” he said.
Woodruff also added that none of the bands scheduled to play at this year’s Rally at the Buffalo Chip have cancelled.
“We’re going to move on until it becomes apparent that that is not the thing to do, but we’re prepared for a complete and regular event like we always do,” he said. “We’re keeping our staff on. Everybody is working and we’re going to be here for whatever size crowd shows up.”
Sturgis City Council President Dave Martinson said there are a lot of players in determining what happens with this year’s Rally.
“I would think that we would have some feedback not just from the citizens of Sturgis, as we should and we welcome that, but also a lot of communication from various people throughout the entire state, state tourism and the governor’s office,” he said.
Whatever is arrived at, there has to be a consensus among a number of people whether the rally does or does not happen, Martinson said.
“At the same time, I think it will be done in a timely fashion, and I would think that everyone involved in this decision-making process will put the health of the people of Sturgis and the entire state of South Dakota as the foremost thing in our minds,” he said.