The downside of motorcycle tourism
By Lee Shelton • Guest Columnist
There has been much discussion about attracting more motorcyclists and motorcycle rallies to the Maggie Valley area as part of the tourism efforts. I understand that the TDA recently committed funds to this endeavor. This comes against the backdrop of complaints by county residents about motorcycle rallies — primarily concerning the noise and congestion — and the rebuttal, by supporters, which are most often focused on asserting that “good people” ride motorcycles, and they raise money for charities.
During a Maggie Valley long-range planning exercise, several hundred area residents attended the public forum. Two issues topped the list of concerns: No involuntary annexations and no more motorcycle rallies. The area residents “spoke” on the issue. The question is, was anyone in the government and area leadership listening? Do they not believe that the area residents have a say in this matter? Has anyone analyzed the true economic impact, especially as the rallies possibly have a negative impact on other tourist segments and the second-home market, the latter of which is fueling a significant amount of the county’s economic growth — construction, health care, retail, service industries?
Myrtle Beach has recently begun to evaluate the impact the rallies are having, and the chamber of commerce, local government, and residents want them to cease — period. They want to choke them off, be done with them. There is a concerted “take back May” campaign.
Our leaders should take note. A principal point of concern is that Maggie Valley is just too small to host large rallies without negatively imposing on the area residents, and arguably only a small number of businesses benefit from them.
I have friends, relatives, and neighbors who have ridden motorcycles, and some who continue to ride motorcycles. Thus, the issue has nothing to do with either riding motorcycles, or those who do. I am gratified that bikers are raising money for charities, as many non-bikers do. That also isn’t the issue.
There are some 6,000 residents in the Valley, of which only about one-tenth live in the town limits. The town limits are geographically quite small, with the only commercial area spanning about five miles along Soco Road. There are few second row businesses, so Soco Road is it. The majority of the roads that abut Soco Road are private, or soon connect to private roads. Soco Road is actually a U.S. highway — U.S. 19 — and funds from outside the county are used for its maintenance. The folks in the Valley who live outside the town limits contribute, one way or the other, to the maintenance of this road — which also serves as their principal, and actually only, access road. It is their’s too.
During biker weekends, it is often difficult to get to/from one’s residence. There are no traffic police dedicated for area residents during the rallies, but just apparently to facilitate the ingress and egress to the festival grounds — for the bikers. The residents are on their own. Many residents now just accept that there will be a couple of rallies a year, and they just live with it — or leave town. But, what if the rallies get larger, longer, and more frequent, with a number of mini-rallies?
Bikes are arguably more troublesome than vehicles because a biker will cause the same impact on another driver — in space and concentration — but there are more of them. They are more difficult to see, can move or turn suddenly, weave in and out of traffic changing lanes often, pass where vehicles can’t or won’t, often ignore double yellow lines when passing (by personal observation on the Blue Ridge Parkway and stretch of road to Cherokee), and they can, and do, cluster in numbers. The danger of motorcycles to the riders and others on the road is well chronicled.
On the Blue Ridge Parkway they at times look like a swarm of locusts. There is nothing more unpleasant than to have a large group in front of, or especially behind, you. It is the clustering of a large number of, yes, noisy bikers, that is annoying to those attempting to enjoy the serenity and scenery. One, two or three is fine — but rallies result in the clustering of many more. There is little deference to other motorists or area residents.
From my house in the Valley, I cannot hear any road noise regardless of the number and nature of the traffic — except for a motorcycle, especially a Harley. Clusters of bikers intensify the sounds and annoyance to many area residents. Maggie Valley is, well, a valley — it is a bowl in which the noise resonates. That is a factor not found, say, in Myrtle Beach, and is an important point in this deliberation. Thus, residents who live and pay taxes in the area are entitled to complain about the noise as it is indeed noisy, and it is their home. It is where they live, and they have a right to express their concerns and to expect a certain quality of life. Several hundred or so Harleys can create considerable noise, adversely affecting “the quality of life” across the Valley.
Surveys reflect that many tourists come here for the beauty, and peace and tranquility. There is nothing peaceful or tranquil about a motorcycle rally. Thus, the letters to the editor recommending that the area residents, bothered by the noise, move, is insulting. It is their community too. The Wheels through Time Museum obviously benefits from the biker traffic, as at $12 per admission, an additional 1,000 visitors equates to $12,000, not including the merchandise sold. It is set up as a not-for profit-entity, thus it does not pay income taxes. The lodging facilities also benefit — including those that have not made any significant capital investment in their facilities for years and are owned by some whose permanent residence is outside the area and who are not notable employers in the area.
In fact, the number of those who do benefit from these rallies is arguably quite small in number — as is the economic multiplier. That has been the case on the Grand Strand in Myrtle Beach, where the number of bikers is far greater. A central discussion point is whether a small number of commercial enterprises should be able to impose this on the vast majority of the residents. How would the majority of the county residents vote on these rallies, if provided the opportunity? That’s something else to consider.
Problems often arise when the bikers get bored just driving up and down the short stretch of U.S. 19. What else is there to do in Maggie other than drive up and down Soco Road and, of course, drink? Beer sales significantly spike during these rallies. The bikers invariably decide to take a look around and drive in, up, around and through the private neighborhoods. This happens frequently. Some bikers decided to camp out on a vacant residential lot in a private community. One resident, whom I know personally, was burglarized during the biker weekend. Some — many it appears — begin drinking early, and drink a lot, then get on their bikes. I watched one biker polish off six beers in an hour and then get on his bike.
There appears to be a double standard for monitoring for DUI, and also speed limits for that matter. Why is that? Also, note the litter. The private residential communities are left to pick up what was discarded during the rallies. And then there is the issue of drugs, which most often finds its way into such gatherings, as is the case in Myrtle Beach.
If the community is going to support bringing in this many bikers at one time, then there needs to be more of a law enforcement presence. The Sheriff’s Office should receive funds to help patrol the private communities affected by the biker traffic, help enforce the speed limit and monitor possible DUI situations. Noise ordinances for motorcycles should be passed, as in Myrtle Beach.
As noted, Myrtle Beach’s government, the chamber of commerce and the residents are currently making a concerted effort to deconstruct and completely choke off the rallies there. They want them gone — period. What do they know that our leaders don’t know? The biker weekends on the Grand Strand have grown in number of bikers and number of days, with the bikers essentially taking over without deference and courtesy to those who live there. Is that what we really want?
Do we really want to be a biker community? Is that the branding — image — we want for Maggie Valley, and ultimately Haywood County? This really needs full vetting, rather than just succumbing to the views and wishes of a few. It has been determined that the economic numbers do not support having such large rallies on the Grand Strand. The residents — and now the government and the businesses on the Grand Strand — have had enough. They don’t want to just scale them back; they want them gone — for quality of life, safety, and, yes, economic development considerations.
The issues aren’t who raises money for charity or who is a good person or not. There are saints and sinners in every group. We would hope that the individuals would continue to raise money for charities and do good works, whether or not they rode a motorcycle or not.
Noise — and its impact on quality of life — protection of personal property, safety on the roads, and true economic impacts are the issues. They are the issues that need the attention, but they are getting little of it.