The Four Corners Motorcycle Rally plans to go ahead with events this Labor Day weekend, though organizers say the rally will be scaled down because of COVID-19 restrictions.
John Oakes, an organizer, said events this weekend have been tailored to meet local and state public health guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Events that feature mass gatherings, such as the Hill Climb at Purgatory Resort and concerts at the Sky Ute Casino Resort, have been canceled.
Other events, such as the Hooligan Dirt Dash, which typically draws 1,500 people, will be scaled down to allow only 100 or so people to attend, though instead of one night, the event has been extended to two nights.
Oakes said other events throughout town will encourage social distancing, face coverings and limited capacity, like the block parties on Main Avenue and the parade for veterans Sunday.
“Typically, it was like a street party,” Oakes said. “But now, it will be like a seated restaurant.”
Event organizers were unsure just how many people will be drawn to the Four Corners this Labor Day weekend. According to the rally’s Facebook page, people from all over the country plan to attend.
“We know for over 25 years, thousands of people on motorcycles have come to enjoy the Four Corners over Labor Day weekend,” said Trevor Bird, owner of the Durango Harley-Davidson dealership. “So we’re taking all the steps we can to make sure those visitors have a safe and responsible experience.”
As of Tuesday, the rally had not received a permit from the city of Durango to hold the event. But Alex Wilkinson, community events administrator for the city, said the event should receive the green light in time.
“They are almost there, we just have to shore up a couple things,” Wilkinson said. “We’re confident everything will come together.”
Wilkinson said rally organizers will have to submit a self-certification plan to San Juan Basin Public Health to show all planned events meet public health orders.
Brian Devine with SJBPH said the health department “provided links to the appropriate state public health requirements for outdoor events in early August, directed the organizers to self-certify each of their event plans, and heard nothing from the organizers since then.”
On Tuesday afternoon, however, motorcycle rally organizers submitted self-certifications for select events, Devine said. The health department is reviewing the plans.
“Self-certification ensures that organizers have read, can comply with and will comply with the state public health orders put in place to ensure that transmission rates remain low so that schools and workplaces can remain open safely,” Devine said.
While nearly all other popular events in the community have been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oakes said he believes the rally can be put on safely.
“It’s outdoors and spread out,” he said. “It’s an outdoor activity that people during the pandemic have been flocking to this community for.”
Kim Baxter, mayor pro tem for the city of Durango, said councilors have received letters with concerns from residents about the rally being held this weekend. Though the event is approved administratively, not by city councilors, she expected councilors to discuss the rally at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
“People are concerned that drivers from Sturgis might bring COVID here,” she said.
The Four Corners Motorcycle Rally pales in comparison to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which draws an estimated 500,000 people during the middle of August to Sturgis, South Dakota.
Since the Sturgis rally, however, health experts have tracked cases tied to the event all over the country.
Claire Ninde, spokeswoman for SJBPH, said there is one confirmed case in Durango that is linked to the Sturgis rally.
According to The Associated Press, “state officials in Colorado are now asking those who attended the rally and have symptoms to be tested immediately, and have recommended those without symptoms be tested a week after suspected exposure.”
For years, the Four Corners Motorcycle Rally was held in Ignacio during the Labor Day weekend, but after a host of complications, the event fell under new ownership in 2017.
The new owners, Bird and Oakes, say the changes to this year’s event were made with the safety of the community in mind.
“We’re doing everything we can to not encourage any type of mass gathering,” Bird said. “We’re doing the best we can. We take the safety of the community and our team really serious.”
email@example.comIn a previous version of this story, San Juan Basin Public Health spokeswoman Claire Ninde said rally organizers had not contacted the health department. That was not the case. Incorrect information was given to The Durango Herald.