Now comes the Steel Horse Rally holding great potential to become an event annually drawing thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to a downtown Fort Smith that through private and public development is moving closer to becoming that “cool” place we all knew it could be.
First signs of the rally’s potential were seen Sept. 27 when more than 400 motorcycles rumbled through downtown Fort Smith and through the Fort Smith National Cemetery. The line of bikes was more than a mile long. The Saturday ride was the first annual Heroes Salute Motorcycle Parade and is set to be an affiliate event of the larger rally to be held in May 1-2, 2015.
Officials with the Fort Smith Police and Fire Departments, Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau and the National Cemetery are to be praised for their support of the initial rally, according to event organizer Dennis Snow.
To say Snow is passionate about a concept that could bring thousands of bikers and their dollars to Fort Smith is to say the Pope is kind of Catholic. With help from several folks providing seed money and accounting support, Snow has established a non-profit with the goal of growing the event so it benefits the economy and helps raise money for other area non-profits. The City Wire has enthusiastically agreed to be a media supporter of the Steel Horse Rally.
“The Steel Horse Rally is more than just a motorcycle rally. It will benefit several area charities while giving this area an event that Fort Smith and the surrounding area can be proud of,” Snow noted in comments provided to The City Wire. “This event will be fun with top notch rock and country entertainment and all kinds of motorcycle rides and activities. But in addition to being fun for bikers, it will give Fort Smith a chance to showcase it's very best. The excitement about The Steel Horse Rally is spreading like wildfire as vendors, charities, volunteers and sponsors are already starting to get involved.”
Similar to the history of Bikes Blues and BBQ (BBB) in Northwest Arkansas, Steel Horse may not reach its potential for a few years. Snow has a positive working relationship with the BBB organizers and they are working to coordinate their respective events. Both groups realize that having successful events in each region will boost the chances of long-term success for each.
Snow is the owner and producer of Thunder TV, a Sunday morning show about riding motorcycles in the region. Thunder TV also is the official TV show of Bikes, Blues & BBQ. He is encouraging Fort Smith regional businesses and citizens to get involved.
“This rally will take a lot of hard work. It's time for Fort Smith and the community to get involved and show the whole country what we can do,” Snow said. “The involvement of the community is an integral part to the success of this rally. The long-lasting effects of this rally will be an increase in tax revenue which will help improve police and fire equipment to improving roads and bettering our infrastructure. Another lasting impact will be the returning visitors: those who will be truly impressed by the history and beauty of our region and the warmth and hospitality of our community.”
The annual economic impact of motorcycle rallies ranges from $1.3 million at a small event in Mountain View, Ark., to as much as $50 million for BBB in Northwest Arkansas. A 2005 impact study by the University of Arkansas estimated that each motorcycle visitor spends $87.50 per day. A relatively small rally in Fort Smith with 2,000 bikers/visitors could result in a one weekend economic impact of around $1.5 million. It is not unreasonable to believe the impact could in future years reach $10 million in Fort Smith.
There has been a decline of the number and size of events – river festival, celebrity classic, professional golf event at Hardscrabble, just to name a few – in the Fort Smith area. The Steel Horse Rally, with strong community support, could be the event to help reverse the decline. The BBB event in Northwest Arkansas has certainly grown beyond expectations, and there is no reason the same is not possible for Steel Horse,
Also, timing should benefit a Steel Horse Rally. In the past few years, the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism has placed more emphasis on motorcycle tourism – with the emphasis including publication of the Arkansas Motorcycling Guide. Parks & Tourism employee Grady Spann said the biker demographic – older, with more disposable income – is a tourism target all Arkansas cities should recruit.
“(T)he fact that motorcycles are being sold at record numbers due to so many of us Baby Boomers retiring and fulfilling our dreams of riding; the obvious economic impact on tourism in Arkansas, and that most of the border states to Arkansas have more registered bikes than Arkansas are all reasons to start this process. The other reason is Arkansans are very hospitable people that like to share our beauty, culture, great food, wonderful destinations, historic cities and sites and natural resources with our guest.”
We are confident city officials will continue to be supportive and that the momentum of motorcycle rallies around the state and nation will find fertile asphalt in downtown Fort Smith. If one listens close, the rumble of a bike often ends with the subtle ding of a cash register.
Let’s get on this horse.