Sturgis rally down 11 percent but crowds were rowdier

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City officials in Sturgis, S.D., estimate that this year's rally attendance was down 11 percent, or about 50,000 people, but the crowds may have been rowdier, based on police statistics.

Brenda Vasknetz, Sturgis rally department director, told the Rapid City Journal the drop in attendance had been expected since the 2011 rally followed the 70th anniversary year. She also cited the weak economy, high gas prices and Missouri River flooding. According to rally officials, 416,727 people attended the 2011 rally, which was down by 50,042 people from the previous year. More than 630,000 visited during the 60th rally in 2000.

Estimating rally numbers isn’t an exact science. The City of Sturgis uses an algorithm that includes tonnage of garbage hauled out of town, vendor licenses issued, South Dakota Department of Transportation traffic counts for Sturgis and at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and the amount of state sales tax collected.

Despite the smaller crowd, Sturgis Police Chief Jim Bush said the police department had 1,376 calls for service this year, compared to 1,145 in 2010. Non-traffic-related arrests were up by 44 from last year and traffic arrests were up by 60 over last year. The police issued 37 more parking tickets this year and jailed eight more people. Drug and alcohol offenses were down, although still leading categories.

“It seems like the average biker is not a kid anymore, so I don’t know if that has something to do with it,” Bush told the Journal. “But 416,000 is still a lot of people, so I don’t know if any one thing can contribute to that other than the average age of the crowd.”

Posted by Holly Wagner

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