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South Dakota Welcomes Bikers

The 75th annual Sturgis Rally is in full swing, and South Dakota rolled out the red carpet, but not how you’d think. Information Centers across the state get ready for Sturgis every year, because the rest stops could be the first contact visitors have with South Dakotans.

This sound can be heard throughout the state this week. Bikers from around the country are flocking to South Dakota. If you’re in South Dakota . . . the Sturgis Rally is hard to escape. Take the folks at an interstate rest stop . . . 420 miles outside Sturgis.

“My name is Curtis.”

“Curtis, very good, and where are you from?”

“Kansas City”

“How many times have you been up to Sturgis?”

“This is my third and final time; this is my third year in a row.”

“Tony Thomas”

“And where are you from?”

“We’re from Alabama, roll tide.”

“New York, but we live, we retired to Florida. We just sold our place in New York this summer, so I went to stay with my sister and brother in law for the last four week waiting to come to Sturgis.”

That is Brenda Trafton. She’s here with her husband Travis. They have been to Sturgis once before, but said they’d come back under one condition.

“Well this is our second Sturgis. We went back in ’90, said if we lived long enough we’d come back for the 75th and we did so we’re going back,” says Trafton.

All these bikers were visitors to the South Dakota Information Center near Vermillion. It’s one of 14 rest stops located across the state. These are places where Small towns like Vermillion . . . hundreds of miles away from Sturgis are cashing in on the rally traffic.

The Vermillion Lions Club holds their annual Travelers’ Breakfast at the center four days before the rally starts. A group of volunteers serve pancakes, sausage and coffee to the traveling bikers for a freewill donation.

Organizers include Sid Davis, the man who started the breakfast almost 10 years ago, and Maxine Johnson, a fellow Lions Club member. They money they raise goes to the W. H. Over museum in Vermillion. The museum’s state funding was cut a decade ago, and the group saw the breakfast for bikers as a way to help. They said turnout is usually good and the information center is a good host.

“Through this rest area I would say a couple hundred already cause when we came, the parking lot was full of sleeping truckers and we had a lot of, we had some families stop. But I would say at least triple digits so far of travelers coming through. This is a wonderful, the staff at this rest stop is just out of this world, and they’re just wonderful to us. They accommodate us, and they don’t bother us, plus they come and eat. It’s a good occasion.” Johnson says.

This year Johnson says attendance has been slightly higher than usual. Deputy Director for the Department of Tourism Wanda Goodman says the increase was expected. She says the higher number of travel parties coming in puts even more importance on the information centers like the one in Vermillion.

“A lot of times those information centers can be the first contact that visitors have with South Dakota. And so of course we want that contact to be very positive, we want that to be a helpful experience for them,” Goodman says.

Goodman also says the knowledgeable staff can be very helpful to Sturgis goers or anyone who is not familiar with the state.

“They’re incredibly welcoming they’re very knowledgeable about the state and not just the Vermillion area. Those men and women know probably more about the state as a whole than many of us at the Department of Tourism. So they can be incredibly helpful as those visitors are coming through and are looking for things to do on their vacation in South Dakota,” Goodman says.

Department of Tourism numbers show an increase of almost 70% in the four days before the rally over last year’s numbers. The numbers come from those who fill out a guest form at the state’s 14 information centers. Goodman says this indicates a jump in visitor numbers at this year’s rally.

Motorcycles convene in Sturgis this week, but the Sturgis Rally has a regional impact, and those like Wanda Goodman work to see travelers here are welcomed in all parts of the state.