Not as many bikers back in Atlantic Beach

The bikers are back in Atlantic Beach this weekend for the annual Memorial Day Weekend Bike Fest, but the crowd so far this year is thinner than in year's past.

As of mid-day Friday, the number of bikers was way down and some people who have been coming to the festival for years were scratching their heads trying to figure out why.

The event started as a small motorcycle rally in 1980. It evolved into Bike Fest, a street festival that at its peak in the late 1990's attracted 300,000 to 400,000 people, causing traffic gridlock across the Grand Strand.

Things have changed since then.

Atlantic Beach resident John Skeeters, who's been around since Bike Fest started 30 years ago, said maybe it's the weak economy or maybe people are waiting until the last minute.

"I am surprised there's not more people here but somewhere along the line, some of that is to be expected because of the economy and one thing to another there," Skeeters said.

Bogan Pate of Hartsville has been coming to Bike Fest for 20 years. He said the town should be wall to wall with people. "Last year, you couldn't hardly walk down the street this time on Friday."

Pate said when the town's mayor and council tried to stretch the event out over a longer period, people got confused about the dates. "I believe it's got a lot to do with Miss Pierce saying it's going to be ten days."

But others point out there's still plenty of time for the numbers to pick up.

South Carolina Highway Patrol troopers aren't taking anything for granted.

"The traffic pattern's in place, troopers are on their traffic control points, so should the crowds come the weekend, as they have in the past, then we've got the personnel here ready to handle it," said Lance Corporal Sonny Collins.

Again this year, a traffic chute is in place. Starting at 37th Avenue South, the right-hand lane will only feed into Atlantic Beach.

If you want to bypass the town, you'll have to get in the center or left lanes.

Troopers suggest drivers avoid this area if they can.