Thunder bikes

Parked motorcycles line Main Street in downtown Johnstown on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Year after year, on every fourth weekend in June, the bikers, the rumble of motorcycles and the rumors arrive together in Johnstown for Thunder in the Valley.

Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which organizes the annual rally, welcomes the visitors openly.

The rumors ... not so much.

One frequent bit of speculation is that this year – whatever year it happens to be – is the final time Thunder will be held. CVB members already have had to address those stories again in 2019, even with the four-day party just starting on Thursday.

“I really don’t understand who originates these rumors and who’s responsible for spreading them,” said Lisa Rager, the bureau’s executive director. 

“It’s certainly not anybody that has any connection directly to our operations, so if anybody is purporting to be in the know, they really aren’t. This is not the last year for Thunder.”

Rager added: “If we decided that Thunder was not going to happen ever, we would have a press conference. It would be known. We would make the media aware of it. We would inform everybody. 

“But we have our dates set the next two years out, as we always do.”

A major change did come to the event this year when the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education’s all-night “Thunderbash” party zone at Greenhouse Park was canceled due to frequent rain washing out the land at the venue next to the Stonycreek River. Somerset County’s ABATE chapter organized other activities – biker games at Peoples Natural Gas Park for the first time and rides to Flight 93 National Memorial Park.

“People need to understand that in 22 years of an event life, there are going to be changes,” Rager said. 

“There are going to be fluctuations. There are going to be good years. 

“There are going to be tougher years. There is going to be good weather. There is going to be bad weather.”

CVB officials have also addressed rumors about food and drink prices at the non-ticketed gathering to which people can bring all of their own items, excluding alcohol, or eat at local restaurants in downtown, instead of buying from Thunder vendors.

“One of the rumors is that it’s $10 for a beer at the Thunder pubs,” Rager said. 

“That’s not true either. In our pubs, you can get a Bud Light, Bud Light Lime, regular domestic that we serve on our menu for $5. 

“Then it goes up to like $6 for the Shock Tops. We do Goose (Island) IPAs. … This whole notion of these high prices in our bars is just completely unfounded.”

The bureau spends approximately $500,000 per year to put on the free rally that is designed to generate tourism interest in the city and bring money to local businesses. Part of the money is raised by charging vendor fees, which start at $600 for a 10-foot by 10-foot space, according to Nicole Waligora, the bureau’s special events logistics and vending director.

“Our vendor fees are based on the fees that we have to pay for rental and some of our overhead costs,” Waligora said. “The rental fees that we have to pay for the properties we have to make that up with the vendor fees.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.