2019 Rally yields mixed results

By Gray Hughes

ALL IN A LINE — Bikes by the hundreds were in Hill City last week as part of th 79th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Traffic counts near Sturgis reflects there were fewer bikers this year than last year. However, businesses said they anticipate the 80th anniversary next year to be busier than this year. [PN Photo/GRAY HUGHES]

The traffic light is down at Three Forks, Main Street in Hill City is open to all traffic and the 2019 Sturgis Rally is in the books.

Businesses from Hill City reported a mixed bag of sorts for the most recent Rally.

“The Rally as pretty ‘normal’ for our store,” said Lorena Freis, co-owner of The Farmer’s Daughter. “Business for those 10 days was comparable to last year.”

Traffic this year, though, in Sturgis was down, according to statistics provided by the South Dakota Department of Transportation.

Traffic from Tuesday, Aug. 6 through Saturday, Aug. 10 was consistently down. Overall, the vehicle traffic count this year stood at 499,654 while last year the traffic count was 505,969. This means traffic was down near Sturgis by 1.2 percent over last year.

This year, too, there were three traffic fatalities — one fewer fatalities than last year — reported by the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

Accident numbers in total were down with 41 non-injury accidents this year compared to 50 last year and 52 injury accidents this year compared to 56 last year.

Of those accidents, 25 of the non-injury accidents occurred in the Rapid City District and 26 of the injury accidents occurred in the same district.

Driving under the influence charges were up, however, with 171 this year compared to 149 last year. Thirty-six of the DUI charges were in the Rapid City District.

There were also more misdemeanor drug charges this year than last. This year, there were 213 while last year there were 175. Forty-eight of the charges came from the Rapid City District.

Felony drug charges were up, too. While last year there were 175, this year there were 213 with 48 of those coming from the Rapid City District.

Freis said bikers classified this year’s Rally as “different” and most agreed the Rally was smaller than in years past.

For Mangy Moose owner Tana Nichols, though, this Rally was particularly slow.

“In 24 years I have never seen the rally so slow,” she said. “We are usually packed inside and out, but that was not the case this year.”

She said they did sell “a ton” of burgers and beer, but nothing like in years past. She said the flooding in Custer the first Friday of Rally could have caused a downturn.

She also said she has heard from people that they like to come early or a little late to avoid the traffic jams.

“I saw no traffic jams this year at all, however, I saw children more than ever before,” she said. “Rally was never a place for children; however, the bikers are fading away and the motorcycle enthusiasts are taking over. It’s a whole new crowd and it changes every year. They are getting healthier and more budget-minded. They aren’t big drinkers because they have to ride their bikes to wherever they are staying.”

At Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Maureen McGee-Ballinger, chief of interpretation and education for the memorial, she said the memorial had a great Rally week.

There were many Rally attendees at the memorial as well as families and tour groups.

The current construction project, she said, has helped visitors focus on the Sculptor’s Studio.

Rally-goers, she said, appeared to be having a great time, and many are already discussing their plans to attend the 2020 Rally.

For Prairie Berry, it had been a “very fun” Rally, said Ermin Husidic, hospitality manager.

“We’ve seen a lot of familiar faces that stop by to see us every year, and quite a few new faces that are here for the first time enjoying the Hills,” he said. “The numbers we’ve seen this year are very similar to last year, and we are looking forward to the 80th anniversary.”

For local charities, the Rally is a chance to do some major fundraising.

The Lions Club set up a food trailer at Three Forks, and sales this year were beating years past, said Bob Lowrey, Lions Club member.

“We’re up $1,000 from last year,” he said.

For the Lions Club, this is the biggest fundraiser of the year.

According to information supplied by Ron Rossknecht, Lions Club member and a member of the Pennington County Commission, the club had nine volunteers a day and served for a total of 378 hours. It has 64 hours for set up and take down, as well, and served 850 visitors in 2018.

All of the profits go back to the community and help organization such as the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The club donates $125 to the local food pantry, gives scholarships, buys eye exams, glasses and hearing aids for people in need and holds a kids’ fishing contest.

And businesses are already looking to the 2020 Rally, which will be its 80th anniversary.

Nichols said many of her friends said they were planning on coming for the 80th Rally next year. However, to some bikers — such as herself — the 80th anniversary is just another year.

At Prairie Berry, Husidic said he has already heard many people discussing their excitement for the 2020 Rally.

Other businesses are excited, too.

“Everyone expects that next year’s Rally will be significantly larger,” Freis said. “Many people said they would not come next year due to the traffic volume while others said they wouldn’t miss it.”