Jim Holland Journal Correspondent
STURGIS – The 82nd Sturgis Motorcycle Rally got off to a strong start on its opening weekend, but there are signs here and there that this year’s rally could see an overall drop in attendance from at the 2021 event.
In 2021, an official tally showed that 555,000 people attended. Not all attendance criteria tally on Day 4 of the rally’s official 10-day race, which started Friday and runs through Sunday.
For example, the South Dakota Department of Transportation’s vehicle count, compiled at nine different locations around Sturgis, shows a substantial increase in the number of vehicles counted entering the city during the rally’s opening weekend, from Friday to Sunday.
The three-day total of 179,726 vehicles exceeded the previous five-year average of 167,094.
On Friday, 56,855 vehicles triggered DOT counters, an increase of 11.6%. Saturday’s vehicle count of 62,199 showed an increase of 5% and Sunday’s of 60,672, an increase of 6.8%.
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But city officials said the early rise normally indicates a significant drop as the rally continues through the week, even with an increase in vendor numbers.
According to the City of Sturgis, 733 temporary vendor licenses were issued, compared to 655 issued last year. However, Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin and Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater said an increase in arrests indicates a smaller gathering.
“When (crowds are smaller) law enforcement can move around a bit better and do some of the traffic,” Merwin said.
The Meade County jail count is up, also indicating that the number of crowds is down, Merwin said.
There have been a total of 131 inmates booked since Friday, compared to 106 during the same period last year.
Prison population may include those booked by the Meade County Sheriff, South Dakota Highway Patrol, South Dakota Criminal Investigation Division, Sturgis Police, Summerset Police, Box Elder Police, Butte County Sheriff/Belle Fourche Police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Sturgis Police Department’s daily tally on Monday showed 12 crashes, four of which resulted in injuries.
Arrests for misdemeanor possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia rose from five to 21 during the first weekend of the rally, with seven arrests for drug felonies, similar to the period last year.
The total number of arrests for driving under the influence is 26 so far, the same as in 2021.
Illegal parking continues to be a problem, with a total of 90 citations issued, more than double the number this time last year.
Overall traffic arrests (excluding parking) in Sturgis are down, however, with 63 so far this year from 82 last year.
According to the Meade County Sheriff’s Office, the total number of calls for service fell slightly during the first three days of the rally, to 284 last year and 272 this year.
Impaired driving arrests are also down slightly, from 22 last year to 19 so far this year.
There have been a similar number of drug-related felony arrests so far, with five drug-related felony arrests this year, up from eight last year.
But the most telling number points to a drop in attendance this year: Overall garbage collection tonnage, one of several metrics used to determine rally turnout, is down, according to Sturgis’ director of public works, Rick Bush.
“We’ve lost 50 tons compared to the same time last year,” said public works manager Rick Bush, adding that Sunday’s collection would have weighed more because of the rain received overnight.
“Wet waste weighs more,” he said.
By the end of the week, as the various numbers start rolling in, rally officials will have a better idea of what the 2022 edition will look like. So far, the most reliable – the enforcement measures of the law and garbage collection – indicate a slight decrease compared to previous years.