Steel Horse Rally returns to downtown Fort Smith; organizers urge mask wearing, social distancing

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,576 views 

After being put on hold for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Steel Horse Rally is ready to roar back into downtown Fort Smith with “new and exciting” events along with some extra precautions to keep everyone safe.

The 2021 Steel Horse Rally will be held May 7-8 and feature the inaugural “Steel Horse Rally Cops and Cones Motorcycle Exhibition.” The new family-friendly event is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on May 8 in the 1100 block of Garrison Avenue.

“The annual charity motorcycle event is dedicated to all who serve: military, veterans, law enforcement and first responders, and this new event will showcase the riding expertise of motorcycle officers from all over the state of Arkansas,” a news release said.

The event will highlight the riding talents of the host department, the Fort Smith Police Department, those of the Van Buren and Fayetteville police departments and other departments and agencies throughout Arkansas, the news release said.

“This is an exciting event to watch for all ages,” said Dennis Snow, Steel Horse Rally Inc. president. “This is a great public relations opportunity for all law enforcement to interact with our community, plus it gives our community an opportunity to get to know officers in a relaxed setting.”

The SHR Cops and Cones Motorcycle Exhibition will take place right in the middle of Garrison Avenue making it easy for crowds to watch law enforcement officers navigate a precision course through orange cones while having the ability to socially distance.

This year’s Steel Horse Rally also will debut its new entertainment headquarters in the 600 block of Garrison Avenue, across from First National Bank of Fort Smith. The new location will feature the main entertainment stage showcasing local talent, a VIB (Very Important Biker) Area, vendors and sponsors.

“Crowd favorites like the Thunder through the Valley Parade, the Vendor Village, and the Miss Steel Horse Rally Bikini Contest are all scheduled to return for this year’s rally,” Snow said. “Attendees of this year’s rally will be able to park their motorcycle in the middle of Garrison Avenue and walk to all of these events now centered on Garrison Avenue. This ultimately adds to the sizzle, sound and excitement of the 2021 Steel Horse Rally.”

The Steel Horse Rally Shootout III will be on May 7 at Tri-State Speedway in Pocola. This sanctioned race will feature professional and amateur racers from across the country and makes the rally a two-state event.

Along with the Cops and Cones exhibition, there are a couple of other differences in this year’s Steel Horse Rally. Even though Gov. Asa Hutchinson has relaxed COVID restrictions, making them recommendations instead, and the city has said it will only extend existing COVID safety protocols through April 23, Steel Horse Rally organizers are setting up safety protocols for the event. They have submitted a plan to the Arkansas Department of Health, which has been approved, and have submitted a plan to the city, Snow said. They’ve ordered personal protective equipment and are getting the COVID vaccine, he said.

“Even if all the restrictions are lifted, including the mask mandate, we want everyone to be smart, be safe, be alive. That has been our motto and it still applies,” Snow said. “We are encouraging people to keep socially distancing. We are encouraging people to wear masks and get vaccinated. … We don’t want a big group hug with no masks on Garrison Avenue. Sure it would be a great photo op, but again, we want people to be safe.”

He said parents bringing children to watch the parade on May 8 are encouraged to have their children wearing masks and to social distance, noting that Garrison Avenue “is a big place” and the parade would go the entire expanse of it.

“It’s going to be up to each individual to do what they think is best, but we will always encourage everyone to be safe. We are doing everything we can to keep everyone and everything as safe as possible,” Snow said.

That includes those enjoying the temporary entertainment district that will be in effect throughout the event. In March 2020, the Fort Smith Board of Directors passed an ordinance establishing temporary entertainment districts in downtown Fort Smith. The ordinance allows the possibility for a temporary entertainment district through special events permits.

The 2019 Arkansas General Assembly adopted Act 812, which makes it lawful for cities to designate “entertainment districts” where patrons can walk outside a bar or restaurant with an open container of alcohol for public consumption. The act intends to “promote hospitality and tourism by establishing areas of a city or town that highlight restaurant, entertainment, and hospitality options,” Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman has said.

The act specifically allows for the consumption of alcohol in public when it is consumed within the parameters of a designated entertainment district. Though the act allows for public consumption of alcohol outdoors in these districts, it does not “relax or supersede” laws or regulations dealing with alcohol including public intoxication or minor in possession of alcohol. City ordinance requires applications for a special event permit to be made a minimum of 45 days prior to the event, which the Steel Horse Rally has done.

“We were excited last year to have the entertainment district. Then (the pandemic) hit and everything was derailed. We are excited to have it this year, but we want to be safe. We will have one bar, and we want everyone to practice safety through the entertainment district as with everything else,” Snow said.

The Steel Horse Rally Inc. is a non-profit charity dedicated to honoring all who serve and helping local charities. The Steel Horse Rally board of directors has selected four local charities to benefit from the 2021 rally: The Buddy Smith Home for Veterans, the Fort Smith Museum of History, Antioch for Youth and Family, and the Children’s Service League.

“The Steel Horse Rally would not be possible without our team of volunteers. These incredible men and women give tirelessly or their time, efforts and talents and truly are the fuel for the rally,” Snow said. “Our sponsors, big and small, are the foundation of the Steel Horse Rally. Without their financial contributions and support of the rally and the community, the rally would not be possible.”

The inaugural Steel Horse Rally was held in 2015. Over the span of five years, the rally has had a total estimated attendance of nearly 300,000 visitors, donated more than $100,000 to local charities and has had a total estimated local economic impact of more than $60 million, the press release said.