SHERIDAN — As more than 3,000 members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association descend on Sheridan this week, it’s still something of a shock for Rachel Webb.
Webb, the auxiliary president of the association’s Chapter 36-1, has been actively involved in planning the national convention in Sheridan for three years. And after a year where it looked like the event may not happen at all, or may be relocated to Rapid City due to local COVID-19 restrictions, she couldn’t be happier to hear the roar of thousands of motorcycle engines on the city’s streets.
“We almost lost it in March, because the outdoor capacity wasn’t as high as we needed it to be,” Webb said. “But I’m so excited that we get to show off our beautiful city. We didn’t just want to help our local economy. We wanted to show off our mountains and our awesome city. Everybody knows where Sturgis is. We wanted to help put Sheridan on the map.”
The Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association is an association of combat veterans from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces who ride motorcycles as a hobby. The association boasts members in all 50 states and began expanding internationally into Europe and Asia, Webb said.
Chapter 36-1, which covers the entire state of Wyoming excluding Cheyenne, boasts 42 members. This includes full members who are military veterans who experienced combat action; support members who are military veterans who did not experience combat action; and auxiliary members like Webb who are spouses of full or support members.
The association is a nonprofit veterans’ charity, whose mission is to support and protect those who defended the country and the freedoms of U.S. citizens.
Different chapters carry out that mission in different ways, according to Webb. Chapter 36-1 has done everything from donating headphones to the Sheridan Veterans Affairs Health Care System to holding an annual Fourth of July barbecue at the Veterans Home of Wyoming in Buffalo. The association regularly rotates the home of its national convention across different regions, Webb said. This year, the honor goes to Region 7, which includes Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. Sheridan was selected because it was a smaller “more intimate” place for the association members to gather, Webb said.
The national convention kicks off in earnest today with the first day of member meetings at Holiday Inn Sheridan Convention Center and an evening performance by Chad Loore at the Kendrick Park bandshell. A motorcycle rodeo, street dance and additional concerts will be held throughout the week and the public is invited to all evening events, Webb said.
While the convention officially kicks off Wednesday, many of the association’s members have been in town as early as last week, Webb said.
“People started arriving early because they wanted to ride through the mountains and see all the sights — the museums and all the other places that make Sheridan so special,” Webb said.
The arrival of thousands of visitors to Sheridan is a major boon for Sheridan’s economy, and for surrounding economies, according to Sheridan County Travel and Tourism Executive Director Shawn Parker.
According to Webb, the association’s members have booked out all of the area lodgings, with many staying in surrounding towns as far as Gillette and Billings, Montana.
Based on a metric from Wyoming Travel and Tourism, Parker estimates each visitor in Sheridan spends between $150 and $200 a day. Thus, the 3,000 association members are expected to spend roughly $450,000 a day and just less than $3 million in the course of a week.
“And that’s on the low end of estimates,” Parker said. “Especially coming out of the rough year many businesses had last year, this kind of influx in tourists is pretty great for our local vendors.”
Dixie Johnson, CEO of the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
“Having groups like this to inject these dollars ultimately leads to more jobs in our community,” Johnson said. “And that’s a good thing for our local businesses and our community as a whole. We’re really thrilled to welcome the association to Sheridan.”