Steel Horse Rally draws more riders than expected, first year a success

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 207 views 

Organizers of the inaugural Steel Horse Rally were hoping for at least 5,000 motorcycle riders the first year. The early estimate suggests they may have doubled that number.

“We’ve looked a drone footage and worked with the police (on an estimate) … and we’re thinking we had between 8,000 and 10,000 bikes,” said Dennis Snow, president of Steel Horse Rally Inc. “Even on the low side, it proves that this area was really ready for something like this.”

There were an estimated 1,000 motorcycles and other vehicles that participated in the “Thunder Through The Valley” parade – a key feature of the overall event held in downtown Fort Smith on May 1-2. The parade began Saturday afternoon at Fort Smith Park and traveled to in downtown Fort Smith. More than 10 minutes elapsed between the first motorcycle leaving the park and the last. Capt. Kirk Redwine of the Fort Smith Police Department estimated that up to 2,000 people were at Fort Smith Park to help kick off the parade.

“Awesome.” That’s what David Hester of Van Buren said Saturday afternoon just after he parked his motorcycle in the middle of Garrison Avenue when asked what he thought about the Steel Horse Rally. “So far it’s really been a great event for us … and that’s good because this is just their first year.”

Hester and his wife, Brittany, were part of the more than 15,000 people – a high estimate was 20,000 – to attend the the two-day rally that included live music at Harry E. Kelley Park, many food and product vendors, and thousands of motorcycles stretched along Garrison Avenue between 6th and 10th Streets.

Event organizers and backers say the rally could grow to be one of the largest motorcycle rallies in a several state region. They have noted that the large and successful Bikes, Blues and BBQ rally in Northwest Arkansas had modest beginnings.

The event was geared toward honoring members of the military, veterans, police and firefighters and first responders. The rally also helps local charities including the Gregory Kistler Treatment Center, The Arkansas Veterans Home, The Fort Smith Museum of History and the Darby Legacy Project.

“Awesome” was a word Snow said he heard many times during the weekend. The event had a few small glitches, but nothing big, which was a relief to Snow and his wife Karen. The pair were the leadership team for the event. Some of the “hiccups” were good, Snow said. For example, more vendors showed up than anticipated.

“This was a whole lot better than I thought it would be for the first year. The perfect weather definitely helped. Mother Nature is obviously a biker,” Snow said Sunday.

Riders came from more than 15 states, including the northeastern tip of Maine, Idaho and Ohio. At least one biker was from Canada, Snow said.

Snow said the more than 200 volunteers were a big reason for the event’s first year success.

“The volunteers, oh my goodness, I can’t tell you how great they were. They were the fuel for the whole rally,” Snow said.

Snow also credited the city of Fort Smith for its support.

“The Fort Smith Police Department was absolutely incredible. They made everybody, all the bikers, all the visitors and our vendors, just everybody, feel welcome. They had such a great attitude about the whole thing. And it wasn’t just the police. Every city department was so supportive of this. There was never ever any dissension. To me it was a prime example of everyone in the city working together,” Snow said.

The police reported three arrests Friday night, but none of those were bikers.

“You never know what to expect when you get this many people in one place … but I’d say it’s been a good crowd so far,” Redwine said Saturday afternoon,

(Michael Tilley, a co-owner of The City Wire, is on the Steel Horse Board of Directors.)