STURGIS — The 72nd Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has attracted thousands upon thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts this week, and officials reported the preliminary estimates show attendance is up, compared to the past few years.
“We're having a great week so far,” said Rod Woodruff, CEO of the Legendary Buffalo Chip. “We're very pleased with the attendance, as it's the best it's been in years.”
Mayor of Sturgis Mark Carstensen said the final number of visitors this year won't be available until after the Rally, but based on the amount of garbage and sanitary services that the city is currently providing.
“I can safely say that this is a healthy Rally due in large part to the amount of traffic and the amount of garbage out there,” he said. “The crowds are almost overwhelming.”
Carstensen noted that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begins about a week before the official first day, as crowds of people flock to the quaint community early in order to beat the crowds yet still partake in the experience.
“It's been both an enjoyable time and an interesting time for me, and we've gotten so many compliments on our efforts, which is a good thing,” said Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie. “The city starts planning the next Rally before the current one is even over … our main goal is to make sure we are still providing a certain level of service, and a lot of work goes into that.”
Ainslie also noted that on average the city of Sturgis has about two or three ambulance calls a day, and during the Rally they handle upward of 20 ambulance calls.
Steve Piehl, of Harley-Davidson, echoed their sentiments and said the most prevalent bike dealer in the area is having a great week so far.
“We're really focused on personalizing bikes for our customers … and we continue to grow at an unbelievable pace and we're also seeing an increase, in younger generations,” he said.
He added that the V-Twin market is “thriving” and as a company they are doing what they can to work with each customer to make sure they find the perfect bike.
As for the challenges — the entire panel agreed that traffic congestion is nearly impossible to control and it inhibits people from getting places, which isn't good for the city of Sturgis.
Woodruff said he's been harping on officials for nearly 15 years about finding an alternative route in and out of Sturgis.
“It's so critical to move traffic forward,” said Woodruff, whose entertainment venue is east of Sturgis along U.S. Highway 34.
Piehl also recommended the city place traffic control at the intersection of Lazelle Street and Junction Avenue and remove all of its four-way stops, as it's tough on motorcycles to stand idle for so long.
Although the people in the midst of the Rally say attendance is up, the Department of Transportation said Wednesday that traffic numbers are down at least 5 percent from last year.
And reports say there have been 676 temporary vendor licenses issued, slightly lower than last year's amount of 709.