SPEARFISH, S.D. (KELO) — Pat Rotert is no stranger to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
The Spearfish Public Safety Director is also a Sturgis native who remembers rallies from the late 1960s. For the past 21 years, he’s been serving the Spearfish community and has seen the impact the rally has on surrounding towns.
“The first thing to understand is it’s still the Sturgis Rally, but it’s a hills-wide thing now,” Rotert told KELOLAND News. “It’s not even a northern-hills thing. You’ll see similar preparations from Hot Springs to Spearfish, from Rapid City to Custer.”
The official start of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is nine days away and the rally will run Aug. 6 through Aug. 15.
Located roughly 20 miles west of Sturgis on Interstate 90, Spearfish will see a “huge increase” in traffic numbers during the span of the rally. Most of the increased traffic will be motorcycles and more often than not, the motorcycles will just pass through or stop briefly.
“We’re really not an event-driven community like Sturgis is or to that extent, even Deadwood,” Rotert said. “We’re more of a destination point. A lot of people will come here to launch their ride for the day.”
Public safety planning for this year’s rally has already started, Rotert said, adding there’s been a few briefings with local, state and federal law enforcement entities as well as emergency management.
“We collaborate regularly leading up to the rally and during the rally,” Rotert said.
In Spearfish, additional law enforcement officers haven’t been needed for the past five years, Rotert said.
“Our demographic and the nature of the rally for us really changed over the last 20 to 25 years,” Rotert said. “We’re a different destination. We’re more of a bedroom community to Sturgis than we are for an atmosphere like Sturgis.”
The average age of a Sturgis Rally attendee has been rising. In 2019, the average age of 2019 rally attendees was 54.
“Twenty years ago we had a lot more rowdy of a crowd,” Rotert said.
In 2020, the rally finished with an attendance of about 462,182 during the coronavirus pandemic. Some Sturgis city officials are hearing there could be more than 700,000 attendees for the 81st rally this year.
Rotert said if there’s a higher turnout for the rally, the city of Spearfish will notice more of an impact. He said this summer has already been busy with many tourists seeing areas of the Black Hills near Spearfish.
“Traffic and noise,” Rotert said are the biggest complaints his department hears during the rally.
He said law enforcement and other city officials just need to be more aware of what’s happening when more and more people are around.
“We just have to be cognizant of managing the things that are happening in the community with that many extra people,” Rotert said.
Rotert noted Spearfish likely saw crowds of more than 20,000 people during the city’s weekly Downtown Friday Nights, Festival in Park and the Corvette Classic.
Those events occurred this past weekend and along with the rally week, they are some of the busiest times of the year in Spearfish which helps the local economy.
“It helps us be a sales tax-driven community instead of other taxes,” Rotert said. “That’s certainly a positive for us.”