Sturgis Motorcycle Rally kicks off annual Military Appreciation Day with Dakota Thunder Run ride
BOX ELDER, S.D. – Servicemembers, guardsmen and more were out at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum in Box Elder to take part in a popular rally tradition Tuesday morning.
The 22nd annual Dakota Thunder Run stems from the merging of two motorcycle clubs on the base — the Green Knights Military Motorcycle Club and the Dakota Thunder. Both clubs joined together around 15 years ago to increase the number of members in their groups.
Traditionally, the Green Knights have served as mentors for new riders in the military. Through their combined experience in riding, they come together to help.
This year, the ride has only gathered between 60 and 70 attendees as the club works to regroup in the aftermath of the pandemic. In previous years, hundreds would join in the ride — all escorted by law enforcement to Spearfish — then finish in Sturgis. One year in particular featured 700 riders, but the group has since agreed on a 200-person limit for various purposes.
However, members are working to build back up to where they were before.
“Before, when we were able to open it up to everyone, it was one of the biggest rides that you could get during the rally,” Paladins for the Green Knights Military Motorcycle Club Captain of the Guard Tylor Evans said. “After that we had to limit it due to COVID, security and everything. We had to limit it to DOD cardholders only. And we pretty much have just stuck with that for the time being, just to bring in all of the veterans that we possibly can.”
Prior to COVID, the ride — which also functions as a local fundraiser for the veteran community — always pays tribute to a South Dakota veteran. Riders pay a $20 fee to participate, which can add up to thousands of dollars raised.
“Every year we pull around $1200 to $1500, and that is just based off of this week alone. But our main effort is pretty much to go and support the other groups that are out there. All of these agencies out here that are also vets-driven”
And though this year they were unable to do so while still rebuilding their group, they are thankful for the community support that has followed them.
“We are right around about 12 people,” Evans said. “So to get even the 60, 70 people we have coming with us actually pretty awesome.”
The annual 60-mile ride goes from Box Elder, then makes a brief stop at Spearfish’s Vanocker Canyon before proceeding to Downtown Sturgis to join the rally.
During the event, Tuesday is traditionally devoted to honoring servicemen and women of all branches and statuses. The city will also hold a ceremony commemorating the Gold Star Families Memorial at Rally Point, which was unveiled back in June.