By Marilyn Stemp, Iron Trader News
If you went to the Sturgis 75th – in fact, if you’ve ever gone to the Sturgis Rally – you sat in traffic, that’s a fact. But just because traffic has become a part of the Sturgis experience, that doesn’t mean we like it. Bikers don’t want to sit in traffic, we want to ride!
What would it be worth to have a way around rally traffic? $25? $50? More? I ask because we may soon have an opportunity to buy our way out of future Sturgis rally gridlock, no kidding. We have a small window, right now, to do what bikers do best: join together for a common cause to make a difference.
There’s been talk for more than 30 years of a road connecting Exit 37 of I-90 with State Route 34. It’s a straight shot, 4.5 miles, circumventing the traffic at the other exits and meeting up with Rt. 34. This road wouldn’t only benefit bikers, either. An increase in truck traffic heading to and from North Dakota oil fields has emphasized the need as well. Veterans heading to Fort Meade, visitors and employees going to the VA Medical Center, and emergency service providers have long known that an alternate route north from I-90 would benefit residents and visitors alike.
But opposing forces have held back progress so far. Some people would rather we sit in snarled jams through downtown Sturgis, with our bike’s engines and our own tempers overheating. Why? Because they want us to stop there on the way. They worry that if there’s an option to coming through Sturgis we’ll bypass the town and they won’t get our money.
Truth be told, motorcycle riders will always go into the town of Sturgis. But here’s another truth: when people have fun they come back, and when they don’t have fun because, say, they’re stuck sitting in traffic, it leaves a negative impression and they’re far less likely to return. If Sturgis city officials were smart about it, they’d loudly and enthusiastically support the new road, knowing that freer flowing roads would produce a better overall experience for all visitors to the Black Hills, bikers included. Any money the city of Sturgis spends on legal fees fighting an alternate route is counterproductive in every possible way.
Naysayers point out the proximity of this new road to the Buffalo Chip, saying that it disproportionately benefits the Chip. There’s no denying the geography; the new road connects to route 34 right at the Chip’s entrance. But as the largest camping venue in the state, the biggest music draw at the rally and the entity that has drawn international media attention to Sturgis for decades, it’s not inappropriate. If you take an even closer look at Sturgis Rally history, a case can be made that without the Buffalo Chip the Sturgis Rally might very well have ended back in 1982 when the city ran bikers out of City Park – and the Chip welcomed them.
More than that, thousands of campers make the Chip their home during the rally, year after year. Along with the Full Throttle, Broken Spoke Campground, the Beaver Bar and other facilities east of Sturgis they generate revenue that increases funds going to state and county coffers. The Chip in particular has spent considerable resources building up the Rally over time, promoting and enabling its growth. As a destination venue the Chip is substantial enough to have discernable impact. Maybe I’m crazy but cooperating for the common good makes so much more sense than litigating to obstruct progress.
As the area prepared for the 75th anniversary rally last year, Sturgis’s own Chief of Police, Jim Bush, recognized the city’s limitations. After working with the SD DOT and Highway Patrol to manage the expected traffic snarls Bush was quoted by the Rapid City Journal saying, “We have a load structure in this community that can’t move through 800,000 to 1 million people. Directing traffic is not going to solve that. In big cities, they have eight lanes. We have two lanes. There’s only so much we can do.”
Meade County commissioners also understand the physical limits of existing infrastructure and they have approved the new road’s construction. We’re told they have most of the funding, but not all of it. What they do have right now is the political will to get it done and believe me, that’s a far more difficult hurdle to clear, one that’s been missing from the equation until now. So if this road is going to be built, it has to happen now, before the current county administration changes.
So here’s the deal: keep your eyes peeled for a crowd-funding opportunity and put your money where it matters, toward a way around the madness. Vote with your wallet! There may be tangible recognitions for those who participate but you know the real reward: an alternative to frustrating gridlock in Sturgis and access to more riding in the Black Hills; made possible by bikers, for bikers.
Honestly, isn’t that why we go there?