The Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally, one of Baker City’s biggest annual events, will be a two-time casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mark Dukes, a partner in High Desert Harley-Davidson, the Meridian, Idaho, motorcycle dealership that organizes the Rally, said on Tuesday, March 30, that due to uncertainty about limits on attendance at events, and his concern about the Rally potentially contributing to the spread of the virus, he had to cancel the event for the second straight year.
“There are too many unknowns,” Dukes said. “I’m disappointed. We love going to Baker City and we love doing the event.”
The Rally, started in 2006 by brothers Steve and Eric Folkestad, rapidly grew into a signature summer event for Baker City, bringing thousands of riders and motorcycle enthusiasts to town and drawing crowds of hundreds downtown to look at custom machines and check out vendors’ booths.
Dukes said the crowds are one of the challenges to planning the Rally during the pandemic.
Under Oregon’s current regulations, outdoor events in counties at the lowest risk — including Baker County — are limited to 300 people.
“We’d have way more than 300 people show up,” Dukes said.
With no guarantee that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will rescind restrictions, or even relax them significantly, by July, when the Rally would have taken place, Dukes said it’s not feasible to spend the time and money to plan the Rally when it might not be possible to put on the event at its usual scale.
“It takes five or six months to plan an event like this,” he said. “What if it closes down again? We don’t want to go there and not do a great job.”
Dukes said he also recognizes the potential for people to become infected with the virus during a big event.
“I don’t want people to get sick,” he said. “If someone gets sick they’re going to point the finger back at us. I don’t want to be that guy. (This) is the right thing to do.”
Dukes said he intends for the Rally to return to Baker City in 2022.
“We absolutely still want to do it,” he said.
Two other major July events in Baker City that were canceled in 2020 are still scheduled to happen this year, according to their organizers — Miners Jubilee, July 16-18, and the Baker City Bull and Bronc Riding competition, July 16 and 17.
Shelly Cutler, executive director of the Baker County Chamber of Commerce, which organizes Miners Jubilee, said on Wednesday, March 31 that although she is disappointed that the Motorcycle Rally won’t happen, she “completely understands where they are coming from” and that she supports the decision due to the uncertainty.