For 10 days each August, the Sturgis Bike Rally – the world’s largest gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts – transforms the small community of Sturgis, S.D., from a village of 5,000 to a city of 70,000 or more and generates nearly $100 million in revenue throughout the Black Hills.
And while a shootout between rival motorcycle gangs, a fatal stabbing and at least five traffic fatalities involving motorcyclists captured the biggest headlines this year, the vast majority of the nearly half million fans who came to southwest South Dakota this year peacefully showed off their cycles, partied and filled up the Black Hills region’s restaurants and campgrounds.
Within hours of the closing on Aug. 13, Rod Woodruff, owner of the 500-acre Buffalo Chip Campground – a facility that caters annually to the Sturgis biker crowd – was already talking with contractors to discuss ways to expand his camping facilities next year. In his 25th year in business, Woodruff enjoyed a 20% increase in camping revenues this season and was looking for ways to expand by the same percentage next year, he told Woodall’s Campground Management magazine.
The Buffalo Chip is a classic example of how the Rally has grown. Woodruff has posted double-digit growth each of the last several years and now is licensed to accommodate more than a thousand RVs and an unlimited number of tenters. “Within 36 hours, everyone shows up,” he said at the close of the rally. “We go from two to three people to having 20,000 to 30,000 there.”
The Buffalo Chip, named in honor of Buffalo Bill Cody’s best friend, Jim “Buffalo Chip” White, becomes a small city each August. Woodruff employs nearly 400 workers to accommodate the “tens of thousands” who show up at his facility four miles from Sturgis. The “Chip” has its own water system, three wells, water tower, sewage treatment facility, an ambulance, fire trucks, water trucks and road grader. And Woodruff spent a bushel of money to bring 18 nationally known musical groups to his 10-acre open-air amphitheater to entertain his guests (whose camping fees covered admission to the concerts) as well as thousands of others who arrive nightly for entertainment.
Campers pay between $125 and $300 for a tent site for the duration of the rally, depending upon when they make their reservation. He has 1,350 improved sites for RVs. Others can come and stay in one of Woodruff’s tents, or plop down $1,400 and stay in any of several hundred fully equipped RVs he provides on-site. He rents out about 300 RVs for the rally.
The Chip’s season runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but because it is so far off the beaten path, it generally does business only during the rally.
Despite the trouble that often surrounds this one-of-a-kind biker gathering, the campgrounds were a safe place to stay. “It’s always a curiosity how this many people get together for this period of time,” Woodruff said. “We have the nicest people in the world. We had not one problem.”
Steve Brown, an owner of Elkview Campground, a 600-site campground five miles from Sturgis, echoed Woodruff’s comment. “We had no problems. None,” said Brown. “We had 2,400 people in and out of here last week from darn near every state in the U.S.” The biggest share was on cycles and most of them camped in tents.
Diana Ludwick, co-owner with her husband, Roger, of the Rush-No-More RV Park and Campground, had about the same thing to say about her crowd. “We were packed,” said Ludwick. “We had a great crowd. They began arriving between Aug. 1 and 3 and by the 5th we were pretty much full. We had people from England, Australia and from all over the U.S.”
The Ludwicks cater to couples and impose a strict quiet policy. “Eleven o’clock is quiet time. Everybody likes that,” she said.
Rush-No-More charges tenters $125 per person for a 10-day stay and RVs $650 for the same time period. They also offer camping cabins. “We have beautiful, shaded tenting,” she noted, which came in handy the days the mercury tipped 100 degrees.
Almost as quickly as they arrived, campers began pulling up stakes on Saturday and by Sunday, Aug. 13, most were gone.