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Sturgis Considers Smaller, Informal Rally This Summer

Motorcycles at a past rally in Sturgis.

City leaders in Sturgis are considering a compromise plan for this year’s annual motorcycle rally.

Some residents say canceling the rally would devastate the local economy. Others say allowing the rally would expose residents to an outbreak of COVID-19.

The compromise plan recommended by city staff is an official postponement of this summer’s rally until next summer. That would include postponing the observance of the rally’s 80th anniversary until next summer.

Meanwhile, the city would still prepare for thousands of riders who would presumably come this summer anyway, for what would amount to an unofficial rally with a smaller crowd.

The topic received a public hearing Monday night at a Sturgis City Council meeting. City Manager Daniel Ainslie said the postponement option is endorsed by city staff.

“That sort of message, that’s encouraging people to look at attending next year and not this year,” Ainslie said, “but still noting that we are going to be able to be prepared to welcome the number of people that do inevitably come to the city of Sturgis.”

Ainslie said there’s only so much the mayor and city council can do. For example, they can’t prevent big campgrounds outside the city limits from welcoming motorcycle riders this summer.

“There will be thousands of people here,” Ainslie said. “No matter what the nine council members and mayor come up with, they cannot stop that.”

At Monday’s meeting, numerous people testified for and against the rally.

Veronica Grosek is executive director of the Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. She read statements from businesses and nonprofits who said canceling the rally would be economically catastrophic. One of those statements said, “If there is no rally, my business would decline by $300,000. It’s unlikely I would be able to recover.”

But other residents – including Lynn Birk, a nurse – said public health should be the top priority.

“What’s the price of human life?” Birk said. “I’ve heard a lot of businesses say, ‘We’re going to lose money.’ What about the lives that we may lose?”

The council is scheduled to make a decision next week. Options include the recommended postponement of the 80th rally (with accommodations for people who come anyway), or proceeding with the 80th rally as normal, or canceling it altogether.