SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Officials in South Dakota who have spent years planning for what could be a record-setting 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally said Thursday they are as prepared as possible for the expected influx of bikers to the Black Hills area next month.
An estimated 442,000 people attended last year’s rally, and officials are expecting more bikers than ever for this year’s landmark rally, from Aug. 3-9. Public safety officials said they’ve planned effectively and that they don’t expect violence like the deadly May shootout at a Texas restaurant where nine people were killed, which initially gave pause to law enforcement officials involved with the rally.
“We are as ready as we can be,” South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said at a Thursday press conference where he urged the public to be careful on roads and to be alert for suspicious activity. “In 74 years, we’ve never had what we would call a major emergency event in Sturgis where it required the governor to declare an emergency, and our hope is to get through the 75th rally in that same way with that record intact.”
Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies partner to handle public safety at the rally, which has not been immune to biker gang activity. In 2006, six people were injured in an exchange of gunfire between two rival clubs. Sturgis Police Chief Jim Bush said the information he’s gotten doesn’t indicate gang activity will have a larger impact at this rally than any other year.
“Just because there’s something happening in Waco don’t mean something is going to happen here,” he said.
FBI spokesman Kyle Loven declined to discuss details of his agency’s preparations for the rally.
Bush, who has worked rallies for nearly 40 years, said extra officers will be coming from seven or eight states to supplement his small department, but he declined to share specific numbers.
“I don’t give that to anybody,” he said. “They think I have thousands, and I kind of like it that.”
State Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist also said officials are working to prevent motorcycle accidents, which are a significant concern at the rally. Transportation preparation efforts include street sweeping, message boards and systems that detect congestion and inform travelers that traffic may be backing up ahead.
As far as how many people to expect at the rally, there are no firm numbers. But city spokeswoman Christina Steele said the rally has gotten a huge amount of publicity and the city had issued dramatically more vendor licenses last week than it had at that time last year.
The state Tourism Department’s research vendor in May reported a surge in search volume for South Dakota hotels around the Sturgis rally dates, which is an indicator of demand.
Heidi Kruse, executive director of the Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, said inquiries and requests for visitor packets also have jumped dramatically.
“Our postage budget is out of control,” she said.