Central Hills: ready for the rally

By Gray Hughes

WELCOME, BIKERS! — Main Street in Hill City already had many bikes parked along it Tuesday, July 30, just days before the 79th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. [PN Photo/GRAY HUGHES]

It’s Rally time again in the Black Hills.

This is the 79th anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and, because it’s the year before a “milestone” Rally (a Rally year that ends with a zero or a five), the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office is not expecting as big of a crowd as normal, said Capt. Tony Harrison of the sheriff’s office.

“The sheriff’s office will have four special deputies in Hill City and four in Keystone,” he said. “We are also bringing in our summer reserves to the area. We assign units to the area between Hwy. 385 and Old Hill City Road so there is an extra presence to patrol for speeding as well as to assist to help keep the traffic flow moving and deal with crashes if they do occur so we can get the roads open.”

While there are more crashes during Rally time, Harrison said that, percentage-wise, they don’t see an increase in crashes.

There are just more people in the Hills during that time, he said, so statistically there will be more crashes—but percentage-wise it is the same.

There are already traffic control systems installed as well as plans in place to help maintain the traffic and safety during Rally.

At Three Forks, the temporary stoplights have gone up for Rally. Those were put in place by the South Dakota Department of Transportation.

And, starting Monday, Aug. 5, the Pennington County Highway Department will send a crew out at 6 a.m. to check county roads for gravel to ensure there are no hazards, said Joe Miller, highway superintendent for Pennington County.

“We put message boards out like the one on Nemo Road near the county line to warn of potential dangers,” Miller said. “We take calls, and our crews will only be doing (road work) in the flat, eastern portion of the county out of the Hills. We won’t be doing any work in the Hills unless absolutely necessary.”

While the state Department of Transportation has installed temporary traffic lights, the county highway department does not do that, Miller said.

During the Rally, Miller said to expect more time to get places, so drivers need to be patient.

“Just take your time and don’t get in a hurry,” he said. “We had an incident (the morning of Monday, July 29) with a biker getting in a hurry. It could have been bad. Take your time and give each other room. The event is two weeks out of the year so if you are a local resident give them the time, know that they are not from here and treat them how you would want to be treated if you were going somewhere else.”

In Hill City the city will shut down Main Street to all traffic but motorcycles, said Brett McMacken, city administrator for Hill City.

Shutting down Main Street is a yearly practice that has been in place in Hill City since before McMacken started as the city administrator in January of 2008, he said.

“Some people love it, some people hate it,” he said in reference to closing Main Street.

The main reason why they shut down Main Street is for the safety of all those involved.

To prep, the city will spend the day going through the signs that it already has to ensure that they are in good condition. After that, it will install them early in the morning to have as little of an impact on traffic as possible.

The city is not sure when it will take the signs down this year, McMacken said, other than — just like when it puts them up — it will be early in the morning again.

The closure will be in place from the area near the Super 8 Motel and Central Hills Real Estate.

McMacken said he knows the road closure can cause some issues to travelers, but he said it is still possible to get around Hill City.

Those traveling through Hill City on Hwy. 385 should not be impacted because the highway in town will not be closed. He also said those traveling from Deerfield Lake east towards Three Forks should not be impacted because roads will be open.

For those traveling from Deerfield Lake towards Custer, however, it might be more difficult to get around, McMacken said, but not impossible.

Pine Avenue located adjacent to Main Street will remain open. Roads going across Main Street will be open, as well. However, there will be a four-way stop sign at each intersection.

And even if this Rally won’t be by some estimates the busiest, the Hill City Chamber of Commerce is prepped to welcome bikers to the area.

“Hill City is welcoming many visitors who are already here early to enjoy the Hills prior to the Rally,” said Janet Wetovick-Bily, executive director of the Hill City Chamber of Commerce. “It is especially exciting to see how quickly Main Street fills up in the morning and stays bustling all day long into the evening.”

Historically at the Visitor Information Center during the month of August over 2,000 guests come in to get more information. There are others who obtain information over the phone and internet.

In 2018, there were 2,304 guests in August. In both 2014 and 2015 there were 2,662 and 2,606 guests, respectively.

In contrast to what Harrison said, Wetovick-Bily said they are hearing numbers will be up this year and will be anticipating even more as the Rally celebrates 80 years.

Finally, she added that the chamber is grateful Hill City is known as a welcoming destination for many guests from all over both the country and the world as they head enjoy South Dakota during the Rally — including the time before and after the Rally as well as the Rally itself — and are appreciative the extra effort put forth by residents and businesses to make all welcome during the Rally.

“The Hill City Visitor Information Center is providing information and motorcycle maps to those bikers who are stopping in and wanting to experience the Hills, too, so that is always an opportunity to promote Hill City, our shops, attractions, resources, restaurants and all dining options,” Wetovick-Bily said.