March 2007

County revved-up for new motorcycle rally

By Gail Binkly

For the first time, the Montezuma County Commission has given the green light to a motorcycle rally.

The commissioners voted 3-0 on Feb. 26 to grant a high-impact permit to Montezuma Rally Inc., a local group, to have a motorcycle rally next Labor Day weekend on the 200-acre Sugar Pine Ranch 3 1/2 miles north of Mancos at 40334 Highway 184.

The crowd of about 60, which proved too large for the commission room to handle, erupted in applause after the decision.

“Let’s not mess up, folks,” Commission Chair Gerald Koppenhafer warned, “because I guarantee this will go away.”

In March 2001, the commissioners turned down a request from the Iron Horse Motorcycle Rally to move that event from Ignacio, Colo., to the Montezuma County Fairgrounds. The board at the time cited noise, public safety, traffic and the strain on county services in nixing the rally.

On July 10 of last year, a new group of commissioners said no to a different rally — in this case, Rally in the Rockies, which had sought at the last minute to move from Ignacio to Echo Basin Ranch outside Mancos. Lawenforcement leaders had said they didn’t have time to prepare, and residents of the area argued that the narrow road to Echo Basin was inadequate to handle the traffic safely.

Rally in the Rockies organizers then announced they didn’t need a permit from the county or from the Colorado Department of Transportation, either, and tried to hold the rally anyway, only to be shut down by a court injunction.

But the commissioners were then widely criticized for halting the rally, even though hardly a soul but the promoters had spoken in favor of the event during several public hearings.

On Feb. 26, it was a different story altogether, as the audience at the public hearing was largely in favor of the new, locally organized rally.

“I’m not sure an event like this should ever be held in a residential area, but if you’re going to do it, I would support this group,” said Jim Cody, who had opposed Rally in the Rockies last year. “These folks have earned my trust.”

Donna Hauser, activity director at the Valley Inn Nursing Home in Mancos, sobbed as she related how bikers who came to the area last year had boosted the spirits of nursing-home residents. “They came and lifted my residents that couldn’t walk and took them on motorcycles rides, and those residents are still reaping the benefits,” she said. “I know I will never forget it.”

Organizers Joyce Humiston-Berger and Tom Hover, both of the Montezuma Rally, Inc., board, said the ranch would play host for several rock and country concerts as well as beer tents, vendor booths and contests over the four-day rally.

Hover said the concerts would be held in a natural bowl to reduce sound. He said the sheriff’s posse and the Blue Knights, a group of retired and current police officers, would help provide internal security during the rally. The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office will receive $7,500 for overtime for its officers as well.

Fires will take place only in designated fire pits, he said, and brush will be cleared and grass mowed to reduce fire danger.

Humiston-Berger said they were planning sites for about 800 tents and 40 RVs. She said the ranch has the capacity to host about 10,000 people but they were planning to cap the number at 6,500.

However, Sheriff Gerald Wallace said that number seemed high for the first event and suggested lowering it to 5,000, which they agreed to do.

Wallace said the the attitude of the new organizers was “what can we do to help, as opposed to,” he paused, “the other attitude,” which drew laughter. “I think there’s been overwhelming support in the community for this rally,” he added. “I really see this as an opportunity to make it work.”

But not everyone was in favor.

Barry Guillet of Flagstaff, who owns property adjoining the ranch, said he bought the land in October 2005 and plans to raise horses there.

He voiced concerns about the number of attendees, parking, law enforcement and the effect on neighbors.

“I believe if the Sugar Pine Rally is permitted, it will change the character of this area forever,” Guillet said.

Sheila Myers, who also lives in the area, said she and her husband are not opposed to the rally, just to the location. “We took great pains when we bought our property to be in a residential area,” she said.

She voiced concerns about wildfire danger, drunk drivers on the narrow, winding highway and the noise produced by the many motorcycles.

“Given the noise generated by a single motorcycle, in excess of 50 decibels, there is no way the event can be in compliance with the [county’s] threshold standard [of 50 decibels at the property line],” she said.

Mary Jo Rakowski of La Plata County, a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she is not for or against the rally but has concerns.

“I am intimately knowledgeable of the rally that took place for several years in our county,” she said. “Our law enforcement is already stretched very, very thin, not only in La Plata, but out here.”

She said a small percentage of riders will drink or use illegal drugs and will not be in condition to drive.

She said she would love to see an annual rally in the Four Corners, but “not smack dab in the middle of private residences.”

“The noise issues, man, you’re never going to address that,” she said.

Hover admitted as much, saying noise “is a subjective problem,” but he said the area in question is agricultural, not residential.

He and Humiston-Berger said they are doing everything possible to make the rally safe, including offering free “hospitality tents” where riders who are intoxicated or just tired can sleep.

“We’re doing everything in our power to make sure that nobody leaves if they’ve been drinking,” Humiston-Berger said, adding, “Drinking was never to be the emphasis of this rally anyway.”

The commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the high-impact permit with the stipulations that the organizers obtain all necessary state and local permits, put the county on their liability insurance, cap attendees at 5,000, and deal with some problems concerning an emergency exit route.

“I’d just like Hal Shepherd to share the tax base with us,” commented Commissioner Steve Chappell wistfully. Shepherd is city manager for Cortez, which along with Mancos and Dolores stands to see its sales-tax revenues soar from the rally. The county, however, has no sales tax but a half-cent tax earmarked specifically for the jail, so it will see no windfall.

The Sugar Pine Ranch Rally will add to numerous biker activities planned region-wide over Labor Day weekend.

Organizers of Ignacio Bike Week, which was thrown together in 2006 after the demise of Rally in the Rockies, are planning the repeat the rally in Ignacio this year.

And a nonprofit called the Four Corners Biker Rally Association is promoting motorcycle events over the holiday, according to the Durango Telegraph. Events are reportedly being planned everywhere from Farmington, N.M., to Silverton, Colo.