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Here come the bikers: Sturgis, largest motorcycle party in the world, kicks off
Thousands descending on Black Hills motorcycle rally, colorful characters included
Texas MacDonald lost count of how many times he’s made the summer pilgrimage from Ontario, Canada, to the Black Hills.
And though he’s gotten hundreds of thousands of miles on his personal odometer — not just the mileage on the 2007 Road King or the other bikes in his stable over the years — the camaraderie, scenery and the journey itself keep bringing the black bear hunting specialist back to the world’s largest motorcycle festival year after year.
“If you want to party, you want to party,” MacDonald told The Dakota Scout while fueling up in Sioux Falls in route to the 83rd Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
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Pulling a trailer with cargo that included bison meat he harvested earlier this year right here in South Dakota, MacDonald is among hundreds of thousands of bikers, two-wheeled enthusiasts and partiers who will descend in the coming days.
While its host town is its namesake, the 10-day rally spans the entirety of the Black Hills, filling otherwise small towns like Keystone, Deadwood, Rochford and Custer with iron horses. And hundreds of millions in economic activity it brings is felt statewide as the yearly migration brings an uptick in business for gas stations, restaurants and hotels on every major highway that feeds the Rapid City region.
Loren Lindstrom, for example, makes Spearfish his home base during the rally. Taking some time off from his craftsman restoration work in the Tracy, Minn. area, Lindstrom said he makes the trip every few years for the riding.
And though the city of Sturgis anticipates nearly a half-million visitors during rally week, the expanse and open spaces of the Black Hills keep the tooling around from town to town during the day enjoyable, he said.
“The circus is in Sturgis,” Lindstrom said.
Tammy Even-Cordell, the city of Sturgis’ rally and events coordinator, said pre-rally estimates have the town of 7,100 expecting between 400,000 and 450,000 visitors by Aug. 13, the last official day of the rally.
And though that’s nowhere close to the 740,000 mark Sturgis saw in 2015 during the 75th annual rally, this year’s attendance estimates are strong considering it’s not a milestone year.
“We are very happy with that,” Even-Cordell said. “People get to choose wherever they want to go so we're happy they choose to come and enjoy themselves here.”
Whether it’s the massive crowds that come with a year ending in 5 or 0 — like the 75th in 2015 or the 80th in 2020 — or a “down year” when only a few hundred thousand turn out, both the city of Sturgis, its neighboring communities as well as the state of South Dakota prepare each year for the influx.
The Sturgis Police Department brings in additional officers from other jurisdictions to help monitor and patrol the crowds. And the Highway Patrol increases its presence in the Black Hills.
“Our mission year-round is public safety,” said Capt. Casey Collins, in his second year as the Highway Patrol’s commander of the Black Hills district. “So for everyone attending the Sturgis rally, we want them to have a good time, but we want them to be safe while they’re doing it.”