Archive for Thursday, July 22, 2010

Town grapples with booming biker rally

July 22, 2010


— A monthly motorcycle rally has grown from 15 bikers to more than 5,000, causing growing pains for the tiny Butler County ranching community of Cassoday.

Some of the town’s 120 residents have complained about bikers causing too much noise and congestion when they converge on the first Sunday of the month. That led to a City Council meeting last week in which more than 100 people — both bikers and locals — aired their concerns.

The next motorcycle rally is set for Aug. 1, but the Cassoday City Council has scheduled another meeting for Aug. 9 to discuss some of the unresolved issues.

“We had all this hubbub,” said City Council member Joy Nelson. “... It just got way out of hand.

“We are trying to get everything back on an even keel. That’s our plan.”

Nestled in the heart of the Flint Hills, Cassoday has for decades been the self-proclaimed Prairie Chicken Capital of the World.

In the 1960s, on the opening weekend of prairie chicken season, the town’s population would traditionally soar with the influx of 3,000 hunters.

By the 1980s, the numbers of prairie chickens — and hunters — had waned. Residents began to look for ways to bring commerce back on a consistent basis.

In 1991, Norma Arsenault, the owner of the Cassoday Cafe, began opening the restaurant on the first Sunday of each month for bikers to have breakfast.

The first time she did it, 15 showed up. The second time, there were 24.

Pretty soon, word began spreading in the biker community that Cassoday was a happening place. People came from surrounding states to attend.

In recent years, it has not been uncommon for 5,000 to 7,000 bikers to show up.

A mini-Sturgis

Debbie Ciucyk of Bel Aire said she goes on about four Cassoday rides a year with her husband. She said the gathering is a good place to share stories with other motorcycle enthusiasts.

“We go because it’s a beautiful ride up there,” she said. “We see people that we may not see but up there.”

It’s like a mini-Sturgis, said Randy Wells, treasurer of the Cassoday Business Organization, who operates a vending tent on Sundays selling T-shirts, caps, pens and patches to the bikers.

As in Sturgis, S.D., bikers park and line their bikes down the middle of the town’s streets, while vendors line the sides streets, selling items such as breakfast burritos and funnel cakes and leather goods and patches.

There’s a difference in Cassoday’s rally, Wells said.

“There’s no nudity, no alcohol and no trouble,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the bikers who come to Cassoday are fantastic, regular, ol’ everyday people who work and play. This is a family-oriented event.”

But that many people concentrated in one spot can cause problems.

At the City Council meeting, resident Brett Nelson presented a petition against the rally, telling council members he had signatures from 45 percent of the registered voters in town, who were concerned the bikes were a nuisance and invasion of privacy.

A person answering the phone at the Nelson residence Monday said he was not interested in talking about the subject.

Settling down?

City Council member Joy Nelson said she thinks complaints arose over concerns bikers had blocked private driveways, caused too much noise and had been caught, on occasion, urinating in people’s yards.

So, Joy Nelson said, city officials are working to put in more restrooms.

In addition, Wells said, signs will be posted asking bikers not to park in some areas of town and not to rev their engines inside the city limits.

“I hope it is settling down,” Nelson said. “We don’t need this kind of publicity.”

Joy Nelson said city leaders are also considering having bikers purchase buttons — such as those patrons are required to wear to attend the Wichita River Festival — to help finance additional projects the city may have. The buttons would be good for a year’s events.

Ciucyk, the rider from Bel Aire, said she thinks people would be willing to buy the buttons if they were for the whole year. Ciucyk said she and her husband try to buy something from the vendors each time they visit Cassoday.

“We try to support the people that are there because they’ve taken their time to be there for us,” she said.

City Council member Nelson said the town benefits from the rally. Local school groups, like the baseball team and cheerleaders, have used the venue to earn money for new uniforms.

Bikers have volunteered and erected flag poles to honor local veterans. One bikers’ group even volunteers each month to pick up trash after the rally.

And proceeds from vendors have gone to purchase more picnic tables and portable toilets.

Fast bikes

That’s not to say there haven’t been problems.

Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy said Cassoday city leaders came to his office about two years ago asking for help in providing security at the event. Since then, Murphy said, he sends five to 10 officers for the rides.

The sheriff’s department hasn’t had trouble with motorcyclists in town, he said. But on the highway, speeding has been a problem.

“Because of the sheer volume of the motorcycles that go up there on the first Sunday of each month, it makes working the traffic rather difficult,” Murphy said. “It’s almost impossible to enforce.”

Murphy said the department has worked accidents and a few deaths from the monthly event over the years.


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