What to expect for the 81st South Dakota Sturgis Rally

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FILE – In this Aug. 15, 2020 file photo, bikers ride down Main Street during the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D. This summer’s huge motorcycle rally in South Dakota led to dozens of coronavirus cases in neighboring Minnesota. That’s the finding of a report Friday, Nov. 20, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

STURGIS, S.D. (KELO) — The 80th Sturgis Rally made international headlines, as one of the largest events during the pandemic.

Now, preparations are already underway for the 81st rally. It’s still months away, but planning started a long time ago.

As one of the largest events in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s Sturgis Rally got a lot of attention. That included a report from the Centers for Disease Control showing how the rally became a coronavirus spreader.

“We made a concerted effort, we knew that people were coming to our town and we tried to keep them as spread out as possible then the last year’s rally,” Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen said.

Mayor Carstensen says that last year, the 80th Sturgis Rally saw 445,000 attendees.

“We do use data to get there, garbage haul, sales tax, DOT traffic counters, we take some pictures to see the density of the parking of motorcycles compared to previous years so it isn’t exact but we do think it’s accurate,” Mayor Carstensen said.

While that many rally goers is fairly typical, the mayor says the rally itself was not typical.

“The things that were different for our rally was the fact that we really had no city events within the rally, there weren’t gatherings at rally point that we put on, organized, or created. We also made some changes with the way we sanitized and cleaned, we didn’t have our photo towers that gathered people in areas,” Mayor Carstensen said.

Jerry Cole is the Rally Director for the City. He says organizers learned a lot in 2020.
Cole says some of those things will continue to be implemented.

“I think the sanitizing stations and the cleaning process that we worked up are probably going to be with us for a long time, for many years coming. They might look a little different than they did last year but they’re going to be there one way or another. Trial and error went well last year, however we can improve on that,” Cole said.

However, this year, Cole says the city is preparing for a more normal rally.

“It all depends on what happens over the next 162 days,” Cole said.

Right now, the rally crews are currently planning events, scheduling performances, and booking campsites and hospitality reservations.

“Hotel, motel businesses are seeing about average bookings right now for the pre-rally bookings. The campgrounds, however, are almost sold out,” Cole said.

Robin Baldwin is a business owner in downtown Sturgis. She has been around for about 25 rallies and she had never experienced one like the 80th.

“2020 rally was kind of an average rally comparatively to other years which of course we were expecting a huge rally for the 80th. But we did see a few changes in traffic patterns, we didn’t do as well inside stores as well as our outside locations,” Baldwin said.

Black Hills Rally and Gold staff continue to wear masks and have hand sanitizer available for anyone. They also offer service at their outside shops during the rally.

However, Baldwin says she also learned a lot and feels ready for the 81st rally.

“Definitely a higher comfort level in dealing with it this year than last year with so many questions on what was right and what was wrong,” Baldwin said.

Mayor Carstensen says the city will continue to monitor COVID-19 cases in the area and keep in contact with local and state health departments, but he says he does not see the Sturgis Rally being cancelled.

“People will be coming and it’s our duty to make it safe and be ready for them and prepare as much as possible. That’s the way we are approaching this but life will go on and we look forward to the 81st rally,” Mayor Carstensen said.

The mayor of Sturgis says while he doesn’t see the rally being canceled anytime soon, it’s always a possibility. But planning will continue for now.

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