Mayor concerned about summer motorcycle rally in Red Lodge

 By The Associated Press - 04/14/2008

RED LODGE (AP) Plans for another summer motorcycle rally here disturb the mayor, who has vetoed a City Council-approved permit for a related street dance.

The Beartooth Rally brings Red Lodge thousands of motorcyclists and millions of dollars each summer, but some residents think the infusion of cash is not worth putting up with noise, crowding, litter and a strain on city services.

Mayor Betsy Scanlin stirred the debate with her recent veto of the permit for the downtown street dance planned during the July 18-20 rally. The City Council’s 5-1 vote to issue the permit is an indication the veto may be overridden at the council’s next meeting, on April 22.

Scanlin said the veto was a way to focus attention on how the rally affects Red Lodge and its residents.

“I don’t think I’m being unreasonable, but I do think I’m being a little tougher than the council,” she said.

Rand Herzberg of the Citizens for Preserving Quality of Life in Red Lodge said people who live in or near downtown are asked to tolerate too much noise and disruption. The group is interested in seeing rally events moved away from that area, Herzberg said.

“We just want to stay engaged with the people putting it on and see if we can find some common ground,” he said.

Rally spokeswoman Marie Olson said that “the last thing we want is for people to think Red Lodge doesn’t want this (rally) to happen.” Ninety motorcyclists signed up for the first Beartooth Rally 14 years ago. In recent years the event has attracted thousands of bikers, but a true count is difficult to come by.

“I haven’t seen any reliable estimates,” said City Councilman Jay Priest, chairman of the Red Lodge Large Events Ad-hoc Committee, created in January to look at ways of improving the rally, the Home of Champions Rodeo and other big events.

During the rally, motorcycles line both sides of Broadway for block after block, and riders fill the streets day and night. Street dances began after the crowds grew too large for taverns.

Scanlin said she doesn’t want to get rid of the rally, but prefers events move to another location, such as the rodeo grounds west of town. Red Lodge is in a valley that is “an acoustical boom box,” she said.

Rally supporters say the town and the carnival-like atmosphere generated by the rally are what draw people.

Peter Christ said that in the rally’s infancy, he did not think bikers would do much for his restaurant that serves gourmet meals and fine wines, but he has learned that many are people of means.

“That weekend has become our best weekend of the year,” Christ said.

Olson said the Red Lodge Area Chamber of Commerce tried to ease the burden on downtown five years ago by sponsoring a Joan Jett and the Blackhearts concert at the fairgrounds on the Saturday night of rally weekend, but the concert drew only about 300 people and the chamber lost about $50,000.

“We’re still paying off the debt,” said chamber executive Beth Hutchinson, who confirmed the figure.



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