Across the nation, events are being postponed, areas restricted and places closed in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Fort Smith is no exception with news Thursday (March 26) that the 2020 Steel Horse Rally will move from May to August and all playground equipment at Fort Smith parks is closed to the public.
The 2020 Steel Horse Rally was rescheduled to Aug. 21-22. The sixth annual charity motorcycle event in Fort Smith was scheduled for May 1-2. The event was postponed “due to recent health concerns over the coronavirus that has had a worldwide impact,” a press release stated.
The latest information shows 335 cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas with two deaths contributed to the virus. Nationwide, there 79,785 cases as of Thursday afternoon and 1,124 deaths. In Sebastian and Crawford counties combined there are between two and eight confirmed cases (one to four in each county).
But with visitors from across the country set to attend the motorcycle rally in Fort Smith, organizers said the prudent thing to do was postpone. The Steel Horse Rally had about 80,000 attend last year. Years past, attendance has averaged about 100,000, Snow said. Those people come from across the United States and beyond. There have been visitors from Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada, Michigan, California, Ohio and Illinois, though a majority of the visitors are from the southern region of the United States, he added.
“The health and well-being of the motorcycle community and everyone who attends the Steel Horse Rally is the top priority for me and the SHR Inc. Board of Directors,” said Dennis Snow, Steel Horse Rally president. “We hope and pray that by August we will have a handle on the chaotic and unpredictable virus that has had an impact worldwide.”
Organizers looked at several dates before deciding on Aug. 21-22, but settled on that date because there were no other scheduled events at that time in the Fort Smith area and no other motorcycle-related events, Snow said.
“We just definitely did not want to cancel the event and just schedule for next year. It just has too much of an economic impact on a lot of the local businesses here,” Snow said.
In the five years since the organization held the first Steel Horse Rally in 2015, more than 300,000 have attended the rally, raising more than $100,000 that has been donated to local charities. The rally has had an economic impact of $60 million on the Fort Smith area, according to event organizers. This year’s rally will benefit The Buddy Smith Home for Veterans, the Fort Smith Museum of History, Antioch for Youth and Family and the Children’s Service League, the press release said.
Plans are still in place for rally to feature a new Cops & Cones Motorcycle Exhibition, the Steel Horse Rally Shootout III at TriState Speedway, the Steel Horse Rally Thunder through the Valley Motorcycle Parade, the annual Birds of Prey Exhibition, the Miss Steel Horse Rally Contest, plus motorcycle rides and entertainment, Snow said.
All 2020 Steel Horse Rally Very Important Biker (VIB) Passes that have already been reserved by donors will be honored for the new dates, and a limited number of VIB passes are available for a $99 donation online at the Steel Horse website.
The Steel Horse Rally will utilize the downtown Fort Smith temporary entertainment district during the event, which were created with an ordinance passed by the Fort Smith Board of Directors March 17. The ordinance allows the consumption of alcohol in public when it is consumed within the parameters of a designated entertainment district.
“No one could have predicted the current situation that is being experienced worldwide,” Snow said. “The best we can do right now is take care of ourselves, our families and loved ones. Wash your hands and practice social distancing and let’s get a handle on the coronavirus.”
In another attempt to control the spread of the virus, Fort Smith has closed playground and exercise equipment in all city parks.
“As temperatures warm up, we want to go outside for fresh air. However, we must continue to practice social distancing and be aware of our surroundings. COVID-19 can remain on plastic and metal surfaces for days,” said Doug Reinert, director of the Fort Smith parks and recreation department.
Because of that, Reinert is asking all those using Fort Smith parks to refrain from using playground and exercise equipment. Though the city has too many playground structures to rope off and monitor, the parks department has made signs they are putting up in the parks stating that the equipment is closed. The department is also making signs for the city’s trail system that mirrors Fayetteville reminding citizens of social distancing and being responsible, Reinert said.
“Ride your bikes, hike, go for a walk or go for a run but, remain at least six feet away from others,” he said.
The bowls and pump track at Fort Smith Skate and Bike Park will remain open as will walking and biking trails in the city.
“If you choose to go for a walk, or exercise outside, please maintain a distance of six feet from people who are not part of your household,” a news release from the city said.
Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism on Thursday issued safety tips for using any outside space that includes: Do not hold social gatherings at parks; share trails and yield to others making sure to stay six feet away from people you do not live with; do not park in a crowded parking lot or use a crowded trail; and stay at home if you or others in your household are sick.