The Steel Horse Rally motorcycle event on May 5 and 6 may still be close to two months away, but associated festivities are continuing on Saturday (March 18) with the release of a rehabilitated American Bald Eagle into the wild. The Frozen Knuckles Motorcycle Run, a previous motorcycle ride in Barling, was held on Feb. 25.
The American Bald Eagle event, free to attend with donations encouraged, was made possible after an Arkansas State Trooper discovered the injured bird and connected it with the Mena, Ark.-based Arkansas Native Plant and Wildlife Center. The release will take place from the banks of the Arkansas River at Riverfront/Harry E. Kelley Park at noon with center director Tommy Young, a graduate in Ornithology and Wildlife Medicine from Cornell University, officiating.
The center has rehabilitated and released more than 41,000 injured animals in its history. Included in that number are 44 American Bald Eagles. Saturday’s release will mark number 45, coincidentally aligning with the current number of U.S. Presidents.
Once considered an endangered species, the American bald eagle has enjoyed something of a resurgence in the last 30 years, boosting their population — through conservation efforts — from 500 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states to more than 5,000 nesting pairs with an estimated 70,000 in all of North America, including Alaska and Canada.
STEEL WHEELS BOURBON SAMPLING
One week following the American Bald Eagle release on Saturday (March 25), the Steel Wheels Bourbon Express will leave the station to benefit the Fort Smith-based Steel Horse Rally Inc. charity that organizes the annual Steel Horse Rally and raises money for several local charities, including Heroes on the Water, the Buddy Smith Veterans House, Earthbound Angels, the Fort Smith Museum of History and ARC of the River Valley. The educational bourbon sampling will take place aboard an excursion train on the Arkansas & Missouri (A&M) Railroad.
With the March sampling, “We were looking for a very unique, educational and exhilarating experience. Something that appeals to the adventurous side of the biker spirt,” said Steel Horse Rally Inc. President Dennis Snow. “After long conversations with bourbon expert Daniel Comstock of Diamond Beverages and after stepping aboard the beautifully restored coaches of the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad, we knew that we had found the perfect vehicle for this adventure.”
The Steel Wheels Bourbon Express event will feature bourbon experts, who will be on board to give insight into the various whiskies and bourbons that will be tasted as part of the experience. There will also be a Q&A session focusing on small batch bourbons and the different methods of production. Each bourbon will be paired with appetizers prepared onboard by professional chefs.
The route begins in downtown Fort Smith and will carry passengers over the Arkansas River, through Van Buren’s downtown historic district and the Boston Mountains to Winslow, Ark. Passengers will meet with Snow and the Steel Horse Rally Inc. board of directors. The train is set to return to Fort Smith by sunset. That evening, The Courtyard by Marriott at 900 Rogers Avenue will offer a special room rate of $89 excluding tax to attendees of the event. Trolley service will be available to all downtown Fort Smith hotels.
The sampling group will depart from Miss Laura’s Visitor Center at 2 North B St. at 6 p.m. Tickets are $75 each. Seating was initially limited to 76, but event organizers opened up an additional car that has since sold out as well. However, according to Karen Snow, one of the event organizers, there is a waiting list in case anyone drops out. Interested parties should email [email protected]
Passenger cars used for the bourbon tasting will be the Explorer and the Spirit of Arkansas, which feature tables, seating, and a bar where drinks will be prepared. Passengers must be 21 or older and have a valid photo identification.
THE STEEL HORSE RALLY
February’s and March’s event will culminate on May 5 and 6 with the official launch of the Steel Horse Motorcycle Rally. Since launching in 2015, the event has brought an estimated $12.618 million economic impact to the region, including $8.346 million in 2016 alone — approximately double the inaugural event’s $4.272 million. The total headcount for last year’s rally attendees was 55,090.
This year’s schedule will feature the grand opening of the Steel Horse Rally Vendor Village at noon on May 5. The marketplace will include food and retail options. Later that afternoon, there will be a “Heroes Salute” ceremony at the Fort Smith National Cemetery followed by a motorcycle ride to Garrison Avenue where, starting at 6:30 p.m., motorcycle riders will be able to park on the center line with a large portion of the avenue between 5th and 10th Streets open exclusively to motorcycle traffic.
Saturday’s (May 6) festivities will start at 9 a.m. with the Birds of Prey Show at Garrison Commons in the 900 block of Garrison Avenue. The show will be conducted by the same center behind the American Bald Eagle release and will feature birds rescued by the Arkansas Native Plant and Wildlife Center. The event is free, but for a donation, guests can take their photo with one of the birds of prey. The Bike Show at the Fort Smith Museum of History will also launch Saturday morning. Then at 11 a.m., the Steel Horse Alley Concert and Entertainment amps up from the 9th Street Stage.
Donations of $5 per person (ages 21 and up) are “encouraged” by organizers with VIB (very important biker) packages to be announced. Musical acts booked thus far include Scattered Hamlet, Mason Jar Revival, Juni Moon and Bobaflex (“Bury Me With My Guns On,” cover of Pink Floyd’s “Hey You”).
Other events on May 6 will include the Steel Horse Rally Thunder Through the Valley Motorcycle Parade at 3 p.m., which runs alongside the Steel Horse Alley Stage where, starting at 8 p.m., the 3rd Annual Miss Steel Horse Rally Bikini Contest will take place.