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Sturgis Authorizes Modified Motorcycle Rally

Motorcycles in Sturgis during a past rally.

Sturgis will hold a motorcycle rally in early August, but city leaders will make adjustments for COVID-19 and hope for smaller crowds.

The Sturgis City Council made the decision Monday evening. Council members described the decision as difficult, because they think riders would come even if the city tried to cancel or postpone the event. The city also has no control over the numerous big campgrounds outside city limits.

Councilwoman Beka Zerbst said the city has to prepare. Otherwise, there could be disastrous effects for public safety, sanitation and traffic congestion.

“It therefore has become my strong belief that not putting any preparations in place would be as irresponsible as going forward with a full-on, regularly planned rally,” Zerbst said.

So the council voted 8-1 to prepare for a modified event. It will include a scaled-back observation of the rally’s 80th anniversary.

The modified plan cancels a number of public events inside city limits. There will not be any events at the fairgrounds or opening ceremonies. A B-1 flyover is off, as well as mass photo shoots and some rally-related contests. City leaders hope the cancellations will decrease the number and size of crowds that amass in the city during the rally.

The city will put up hand-sanitizing stations. There is also talk about stockpiling personal protection equipment like face masks for local workers. City leaders want to arrange for mass-COVID-19 testing during and after the rally. And they’re continuing a program that uses volunteers to shop for local residents who are at high-risk from COVID-19.

Councilman Ron Waterland said the rally was postponed during World War II. He called that a patriotic decision and said, “We will need a different kind of patriotism this year from our citizens, and from those that are indicating that they’re coming no matter what we decide."

“Patriotism must include respect for others, personal responsibility when it comes to following CDC guidelines, and social distancing," Waterland said.

Last year, an estimated 490,000 people attended the rally across its 10 days. This year’s rally is Aug. 7-16.

-Seth Tupper is SDPB's business and economic development reporter.