Motorcyclists have been rolling into town since early this week for the Atlantic Beach Bikefest, which area officials expect to draw at least the same size crowd as last year.
The annual motorcycle rally will officially kick off today with an opening ceremony at 3 p.m. in Atlantic Beach.
That follows a meet-and-greet event conducted Thursday at the Myrtle Beach Mall.
"We heard this year is supposed to be different," said motorcyclist Rodney Frierson of Richmond, Va., regarding Myrtle Beach's overturned helmet law. "We're expecting it to be a nice turnout. We hear a lot of people are coming this year - better than last year."
Katie Sanford with Central Kansas Ruff Ryders said the national Ruff Ryders motorcycle club is expecting 1,000 members to attend the festival.
"The club makes it into a big event," said Sanford's husband, Clay Sanford. This is the couple's and some of the other club members' first time to the festival.
Atlantic Beach town officials are expecting about 300,000 people to attend the four-day event, which runs through Monday.
"Last year, we we're quite happy with the results," Town Manager William Booker said. "We had new vendors and activities. The festival was more structured and focused more on the biker industry and families. This year, we have taken the same steps with more direction."
The town will offer three - instead of one - entertainment stages, posters created by renowned artist John W. Jones with his autograph, and a "Gullah Village" area during the Memorial Day weekend event as "an opportunity to educate people about the Gullah culture," Booker said.
There also will be major involvement from Icon; Akoo Clothing by T.I.; bike manufacturers such as Harley Davidson, Yamaha and Suzuki; and an organized worship service on Sunday, Booker said.
"I'm excited and looking forward to it," Booker said. "We're prepared."
Area law enforcement officials are also prepared to step in where needed.
Atlantic Beach Police Chief Eric Lewis said law enforcement officials with the State Law Enforcement Division, North Myrtle Beach, S.C. Highway Patrol, Horry County police and the Horry County Sheriff's Office will aid town police with the event.
A National Guard helicopter will also fly during the evenings and at other times in the North Myrtle Beach area during the Bikefest as it did for the Harley rally, according to North Myrtle Beach city spokesman Pat Dowling.
"All North Myrtle Beach police and fire personnel will be on call throughout the weekend in order to be able to participate as needed," Dowling said.
The North Myrtle Beach Public Works Department expects to begin putting up the barriers that create a traffic chute for those who want to go into Atlantic Beach for the festival, Dowling said. The chute allows motorists who do not want to go into the town to move on with as little traffic delays as possible.
As was the case with the Harley rally, residential streets will be closed to through traffic, except in areas where festival attendees may have rented homes, cottages or condos, Dowling said. He said sawhorses with signage that were put up during the Harley event will remain through the Memorial Day weekend event.
This year's traffic pattern in Atlantic Beach will be different from previous years where vehicles will not be allowed on Second Avenue, but will have to exit the town from First Avenue.
The new pattern is to avoid the bottleneck that occurred when vehicles had to go to Second Avenue to exit and people walked down Second Avenue to get to the entertainment stage, Booker said. He said bikes still will be able to park along 30th Avenue South.
In Myrtle Beach, there are no changes being made to traffic patterns, minus Ocean Boulevard being closed between 8th and 9th avenues North this weekend for the military concerts and event, Myrtle Beach police Capt. David Knipes said.
Contact JANELLE FROST at 443-2404.