COLUMBIA — The 33rd Annual National Bikers Roundup will bring an estimated 35,000 people to the Boone County Fairgrounds from Aug. 3 to 8 and is expected to pump about $6 million into the mid-Missouri economy.
Previous roundups, however, have brought a bit of trouble to host cities, and Columbia's law enforcement is trying to get ahead of the game to prevent problems in Columbia.
Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the economic impact of the event will be well worth it. She said Sheriff Dwayne Carey is seeking assurances of tight security at the roundup and that trouble in other cities has been relatively minor.
The economic boon is that 80 percent of the money from the roundup will come as bikers from out-of-state buy food, entertainment and gas and go shopping downtown and elsewhere, Steiner said. She added that the roundup is a family event with a full carnival.
Dennis Barton, co-chairman of the Missouri Roundup Committee, said the event “is like a big homecoming.”
He said there will be games for bikers, for children and for the public.
National Bikers Roundup Chairman Billy Walker called the event “a once-a-year family reunion.” He said there also will be bike shows, national entertainment acts that have yet to be announced, and a food drive to benefit Columbia.
Steiner said she has heard positive feedback about the rallies from officials in previous host cities. Some contacted by the Missourian, however, said there was trouble.
For example, in St. Lucie County, Fla., which hosted the roundup in 2008, friction between two rival gangs resulted in one man firing a gun into a crowd. A sheriff’s deputy shot and took the man down without killing him, said Garry Wilson, chief deputy of the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office. There were no other injuries that night.
Four years earlier at the Washington County Fair Park outside West Bend, Wis., another shooting occurred. Sandy Lang, who was deputy director of the fair park at the time, said the grounds were locked down. Lang, who now is fair park manager, said she would never host the event again.
“It got a little scary,” she said.
Lt. Paul Pokorski of the West Bend, Wis., Police Department called the shooting a “one bad apple that spoiled the bunch kind of thing.” There were no issues with bikers in the city or with roundup activities hosted in West Bend's historic downtown.
Lang, however, said the trouble didn’t stop with the shooting. The Wisconsin Roundup Committee, which had arranged to share money from entrance fees with the park, failed to pay. The fair park director ended up collecting the money while being escorted by two sheriff’s deputies, she said.
Walker noted that it was the Wisconsin bikers group — not the National Bikers Roundup or the Missouri Roundup Committee — that failed to pay.
“We try to make sure everything is done right,” Walker said.
“We try to control our situations as best we can. We don’t want to mess it up for everybody,” Barton said.
Steiner said 80,000 people attended last year’s event in Atlanta. With that size crowd, she said, there’s always the potential for some crime. But she noted that no nonparticipant has been harmed in the 30-year history of the event.
“There are always concerns when you have that many people,” Steiner said.
Walker said a committee is considering options for private security at the fairgrounds so that the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and Columbia police can maintain adequate coverage in the city and county during the event. The committee is trying to hire a Columbia security group, but Walker would not name the company until he signs a contract.
Walker said there will be security on patrol at all times on the fairgrounds and security crews will control the entrance.
An entertainment and security meeting is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at the fairgrounds, Barton said.
Neither Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey nor North Division Commander Gary German responded to numerous attempts to contact them Tuesday and Wednesday.
Steiner said Carey needs to be assured that the private security workers are qualified and that they can act as one security force in combination with sheriff's deputies.
Paul Reinsch, spokesman for Troop F of the Missouri Highway Patrol, said the patrol plans to have additional officers on the road to promote safe driving and to assist motorists during the rally.
Barton compared the roundup to a major soccer game. There may be some “uproar,” but participants are simply there to have fun.