Sturgis’s Buffalo Chip Campground Marks 30 Years
Rod Woodruff’s memory of the Buffalo Chip Campground’s humble beginning is as clear as his vision for its future.
“It’s just exciting,” Woodruff said, as the Sturgis, S.D., campground celebrates it 30-year anniversary this year.
A year of preparation and dozens of staff members help transform the campground into a bustling venue that attracts top-name entertainment, hosts bars with live music, restaurants, a motorcycle museum, a comedy club, a new zip line tower and serves as a temporary home to hundreds of rallygoers each year, the Rapid City Journal reported.
“We work all year long to make improvements,” Woodruff said. “We’re just having a party and trying to make it better each year.”
The campground has attracted more and more bikers each year. It’s the lure of western South Dakota’s wide-open spaces and big name acts that have helped draw in crowds each year, said Woodruff, who has owned the Chip for decades.
There is still room to grow, said publicist Michael Sanborn, who has worked at the Chip since 1991.
“We want to keep introducing more people to motorcycling and to this event,” he said. “We’re paying attention to the younger people, as people from 30 years ago are older and coming in big RVs … We have a lot of space, so we can fit more. We can always fit more.”
“That’s part of the magic – there’s plenty of room for people to spread out,” he said.
Some Setbacks Along the Way
The growth has not come without its downfalls.
Two years ago, Meade County commissioners decided not to pursue building a truck route around Sturgis to allow better traffic flow to the Chip and a handful of other campgrounds, prompting Woodruff to say he would consider moving the Chip. This year, Woodruff said that if it did move, it wouldn’t be far.
“The traffic has become something that has really hurt the rally,” he said.
The rally has been shrinking every year, Woodruff said, and he predicts the number of attendees will be down this year, as well.
But the Chip has managed to continue its growth despite the traffic setbacks, he said.
The numbers have increased every year since 1990. Woodruff, who keeps the number of Chip campers a closely-held secret, hopes to double the attendees within the next five years.
“I see it becoming much more prominent,” he said.
Prominence hasn’t come easy, Woodruff said, and the first couple years for the Chip were especially rough.
“It started with a little group of people, and we lost money,” he said, and some of the people decided to bow out. When he took ownership of the campground in the early 1980s, Woodruff said, some people in the area encouraged him to “get the riff raff out of town” during the rally and use the campground as a way to draw some of the bikers away from downtown Sturgis.
His idea for the campground was much simpler.
“When I bought the land, it was nothing but grass and a three-strand barb-wire fence,” he said. “We’d take down the gate, let people come in, and we’d have a party,” he said.
That is still the concept, just on a grander scale, Sanborn said.
“How much fun does it sound to plan a big party all year?” he asked.
Sanborn, who works on entertainment, marketing and publicity, said “it’s a weird job,” but rewarding.
“I try to make tens of thousands of people happy; it’s kind of a cool thing to do,” he said.
For him, one of the most telling signs of growth at the Chip is the number of media outlets he deals with each year ballooning during three decades.
“Now, I’m dealing with hundreds and maybe a thousand different media outlets around the world,” he said. “Before, it was the Journal and a couple biker magazine and local radio stations … As we’ve grown, we’ve grown in the amount of attention too.”
Woodruff said that growth will rely on the Chip’s greatest strength – its people.
“This whole thing is about friendships,” he said. “The more people you get together, the more they become friends. It’s like a big family.”
Click here to watch a video on the Buffalo Chip Campground, courtesy of YouTube, first posted in 2007.