The weather was rotten on Friday for the second annual Steel Horse Rally, but that didn’t stop an estimated 25,000 bikers from roaring into downtown Fort Smith on Saturday, possibly doubling the first-year attendance.
Steel Horse Rally President Dennis Snow said Sunday the initial estimate by Fort Smith Police Department was around 25,000 motorcycles rolling through Garrison Avenue in downtown Fort Smith and other parts of the downtown area. The 2015 rally was attended by between 10,000 and 13,000 bikers.
“It’s doing what it is supposed to do. It’s growing,” Snow said.
Storms on Friday hurt attendance for several events, including a concert by rock group Jackyl, Snow said. Vendors closed up early, but Snow said the attendance was enough to make money. Steel Horse Rally is a non-profit that helps local charities. The five to benefit from the 2016 Steel Horse Rally are: Fort Smith Children’s Emergency Shelter-Independent Learning Program, Hannah House, Earthbound Angels, the Gregory Kistler Treatment Center, and the Fort Smith Museum of History.
“The rain hurt us. A lot of folks didn’t show up. … But then on Saturday everyone wanted to ride. I mean, the businesses on Garrison were just packed. The whole area was just wall-to-wall people,” Snow said.
Several hundred bikers also attended the Saturday morning dedication of the Gen. William O. Darby statue on the east end of Garrison Avenue. The statue honors Fort Smith’s native son credited with creating the U.S. Army Rangers. The event at Cisterna Park in downtown Fort Smith marked the end of several years of work by the General Darby Legacy Project to place a statue of the Fort Smithian who died at the age of 34 in the final days of World War II.
Snow said a difference this year compared to 2015 was the number of non-bikers to attend the rally, walk the avenue, and visit the vendors. More than 40 vendors packed the Steel Horse Rally vendor village, double that in 2015.
“The main thing everyone commented on was the incredible foot traffic on Garrison and the rest of downtown. There were people with strollers, you know, families. It was just refreshing to see all those people mixed in with the bikers,” Snow said.
Snow also said the bikers who attended the rally in 2015 – held before the Unexpected Project’s Festival of Murals that brought international artists to town to paint several large murals in the downtown area – loved the murals and were stopping to get a picture on their bike with a mural. There also were many bikers stopping to get pictures with the Darby statue.
Snow also said several riding groups sent reps to the rally to see if it was good enough for other club members to attend.
“They have what are called these ‘mandatory national rides’ that the club has to take. You have the Daytona rally, and of course the big one is Sturgis. … We heard from several of those guys who said they want to put the (Steel Horse) rally on the national ride list,” Snow said.
Snow said he is looking forward to the economic impact report on the 2016 rally.
The inaugural Steel Horse Rally held in downtown Fort Smith in early May 2015 was attended by an estimated 25,000 people and resulted in a regional economic impact of $4.272 million, according to a report from the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau.
May 5-6, 2017, has already been set for the third annual Steel Horse Rally.
(Michael Tilley, a co-owner of Talk Business & Politics, is on the Steel Horse Rally Board of Directors.)