Public Information Officer;
City of Sturgis (for Energy Ink)
The small town of Sturgis is located in western South Dakota at the base of the Black Hills and the eastern gateway to the gold fields of Deadwood and Lead, known for the likes of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane.
Colorful characters have always been a part of the Sturgis history, including Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™ founder Clarence ‘Pappy’ Hoel. Pappy was born and raised in Sturgis and also owned an Indian motorcycle dealership which was initially operated out of his garage on the main road into Sturgis.
How it all Started
In 1936 Pappy and a group of local motorcycle enthusiasts decided to form a club which became known as the Jackpine Gypsies. Early in 1937 they decided to rehabilitate an old half-mile dirt track which was previously used for horse racing in Sturgis and held a “Field Day” in August of 1937. The activities included stunt riding, games and racing. Most of the 37 participants came from Sturgis, Lead and Rapid City.
After seeing the interest and number of attendees the races brought to the area, local merchants wanted to help promote the event and became involved in both organizing and executing the events from that moment on. The Jackpine Gypsies remained in charge of the Gypsie Tour which invited the public to go on a formal ride through the Black Hills as part of the Motorcycle Classic activities.
Due to WWII, gas rationing and war worries halted the rally from 1943 to 1945. The 1946 event which consisted of just the Gypsie Tour and a few races was able to recapture a crowd of approximately 4,000 people.
Over the years, the Jackpine Gypsies along with local merchants and promoters worked hard to enhance and expand what is now known as the Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™. This year, 2015, will be the 75th anniversary of the Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™. Although it’s impossible to predict the number of people who will attend in any given year, many people who have been a part of the Rally for decades are estimating numbers of attendees will exceed the 1 million mark. For a town of just over 6,800 residents it will be a year to remember.
The Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™ Today
The effects of the Rally is felt across the entire Midwest region. The incorporation of major sponsors has helped spread the word about Sturgis and the Rally around the world. Visitors from many foreign countries travel to Sturgis to experience the ultimate American biker culture. Several documentaries and cable channel specials have brought the excitement of the Rally into the homes of millions of viewers. The internet also plays a major role in providing news and information to motorcycle enthusiasts. The Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™ Facebook page currently has over 190,167 followers who are actively engaged in sharing their photos, Rally experiences and support.
The City of Sturgis is home to approximately 6,800 residents. The major employers are the hospital, Ft. Meade VA facility and the school system. There are no theaters, no Wal-Mart and no shopping malls. The City employs approximately 130 people on a permanent basis and up to 400 during the Rally period. The Rally Department is made up of three full-time employees. Two employees are added during the summer months and one more is added during the Rally. In addition to the Rally Department, a handful of other temporary employees are added to work information booths, as vendor inspectors, parking lot security, ambulance personnel and photo tower attendants. Numerous certified police officers are hired from several departments within the state to supplement the regular police force.
All vendors are required to obtain a vending license prior to doing business within the City limits. The Sturgis Finance Office is in charge of issuing these licenses and fees are charged based on the size of the lot where vending takes place. The dates of when vendors are allowed to operate are also regulated. A vending license is good for 12 days and the three days prior to the start of the Rally have vendors lined up to receive their licenses. Vendors caught selling without their license are subject to significant fines. The City has numerous inspectors on staff whose job is to police where and when vendors set up to sell their wares.
A large challenge for City personnel is the orchestration of street closures, vendor set up and event scheduling. Main Street is open to motorcycle traffic only during the Rally. Due to the large number of attendees in 2015, Main Street will close early on Wednesday, July 29 instead of the traditional Friday prior to the official start of the Rally. This means vendors and delivery personnel will need to be unpacked and set up prior to the street closure. Once closed, Main Street becomes home to photo towers, vendor displays, ATM’s and other Rally related infrastructure. At 2am each day the Public Works crews take over the downtown area removing trash, making repairs and washing sidewalks and gutters.
No matter how well organized the Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™ has become, it would be physically impossible to gather all those attending into the City at one time. In the 1980’s several large campground venues opened their doors to the overflow from Sturgis. In addition to RV and tent camping, these venues host headline entertainment along with full service bars, vending areas, events and everything else one would expect to find in a small town. If attendees prefer a more down to earth experience, back yards and even residences are also up for rent. No matter what the motivation for attending the Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™, visitors will surely find what they are looking for during the 2015 75 year anniversary August 3-9, 2015.