Photo – Stephen Groves AP
STURGIS, S.D. (AP) – There are few visible signs of the coronavirus pandemic that’s changing the world at the massive Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
The scene Saturday was familiar to veterans of the event, now in its 80th year, with throngs of maskless bikers packing the streets.
63-year old motorcyclist Kevin Lunsmann rode more than 600 miles to the rally from Big Lake, Minn, with several friends – explaining that he has attended the Sturgis event every year since 2003 and didn’t want to miss the 80th, despite being “somewhat” concerned about the coronavirus.
Still, the crowds of people and rows of bikes surprised him. He said there was no difference from previous years “other than a few people wearing masks.”
Lunsmann said he was avoiding the bars and nightclubs that line the city’s main drag this year, but many others were not as the bars were filled with revelers as the sun set Friday. “Everybody’s still partying hardy,” Lunsmann said.
The sheer numbers with an estimate of $250,000 for the 10 day Rally raising the prospect that this year’s rally could spread the virus in a state with no special limits on indoor crowds, no mask mandates and a governor who’s eager to welcome visitors and their money.
Law enforcement agencies across the Black Hills have boosted their numbers to meet the crowd. Some have adjust daily and vacation schedules to make more officers available while other have added officers on a temporary basis from others agencies across South Dakota and elsewhere.
Most incidents during the Rally handled by officers involve motorcycle crashes, drug use, intoxication, and human trafficking, but Pennington County Sheriff’s Lt Dustin Morrison could be speaking for all the agencies when he says his office is prepared for whatever comes their way.
Lt Morrison says the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office has shifted deputies to increase staffin in Hill City and Keystone as well as on major roads in the western part of the county with additional personnel patrolling the streets and walking foot patrol.