Labor Day weekend might be a little quieter around Durango without the Four Corners Motorcycle Rally, which was approaching its 25th year until it was canceled because of financial struggles, but that does not mean bikers are not on the way.
“We’re expecting a great crowd this year,” said Trevor Bird, who purchased Durango Harley-Davidson from longtime owner Jeff Murray a few months ago. “But as far as numbers go, we have no idea what to expect.”
Bird and his wife, Catie, took the helm of Durango Harley-Davidson on June 20 and were immediately flooded with questions from motorcyclists around the country wondering if the Four Corners rally would be held this year.
For months, uncertainty loomed around the Ignacio-based event, which has been plagued with financial troubles for years. Its owner, Johnny Valdez, was reportedly unreachable and there were no indications the event was actually going to happen. So, Bird teamed up with other partners around the area to set up a makeshift rally with events in Durango, Vallecito and Ignacio.
“All of this was set up in the last three to four weeks,” Bird said. “It was mad dash to the finish line, but I feel really good about it.”
A tradition withersValdez, a lifelong Ignacio resident and avid motorcyclist, coordinated the rally for the Ignacio Chamber of Commerce for three years before he purchased it fully three years ago.
Valdez hoped to reverse a steady decline in the rally’s participation since its heyday in the 1990s when the rally was well-attended. But he also had to assume the event’s steep debt, which racked up to $100,000 over the past two decades.
Valdez increased the number of events offered throughout the weekend, and even brought in national musical acts, such as Los Lonely Boys. He said last year the number of attendees increased 25 percent from 2015.
The rally was supposed to celebrate its 25th year in 2017, which Valdez promised would be a standout event. Ultimately, he could not draw enough attendance to turn the rally around. “At the end of the day, it’s hard to recover those costs unless you get 10,000 people a day coming to the gate,” Valdez said. “People were just not coming in droves like they used to. We did a fantastic job and it just wasn’t enough.”
Valdez, speaking to The Durango Herald on Monday, said since he has taken over, the rally amassed another $75,000 to $100,000 worth of debt. To date, he said there is about $150,000 of debt, and he has paid back about $70,000 of it.
“I tried to keep it going and there wasn’t much I could do,” Valdez said. “At a certain point, you have to call it.”
He said he does not intend to declare bankruptcy; instead, he vows to pay back everyone.
“It may take me a long time,” he said, “but I’m trying to be as honorable as I can.”
Valdez said he supports the Durango Rally slated for this Labor Day weekend.
Mark Garcia, Ignacio’s interim town manager, said Valdez owes the town about $2,500. But because the town hasn’t been able to get a response, Garcia said legal action is being considered.
Rich Hillyer, owner of Southwest Ag Inc., in Bayfield, which rented golf carts to the rally, says the rally owes him an estimated $5,000.
“The people he owes money to don’t like it, and I’m one of them,” he said.
A shot to the economyJack Llewellyn, director of Durango Chamber of Commerce, said he still thinks motorcyclists will come to the Four Corners on Labor Day weekend, if only for the beauty of the scenery.
He said the chamber is taking a “wait and see approach” for the Durango Rally at Four Corners to be held this year. In 2010, a Fort Lewis College study estimated the event had a $2.3 million impact on the Four Corners.
Ignacio town Trustee Tom Atencio said responses about the cancellation, and possible demise, of the Four Corners Motorcycle Rally are varied. Some say the event was an economic boost for Ignacio and they lament the loss; others say the expense and effort to hold the rally was not worth the diminishing returns.
“You hear mixed emotions,” Atencio said.
Bird said he hopes to reinvigorate the motorcycle rally for the region, with a strong emphasis on family-friendly events.
The new owner of Durango Harley-Davidson is from Texas and has a long history with the Harley-Davidson company. He and his family moved to Durango about three months ago, and he already is thinking about next year.
“What we have planned for 2018 is going to be really exciting for the community,” he said. “Stay tuned.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgThis story has been updated to correct the name of Catie Bird.