MOAB, Utah - Visitors flock here like swallows returning to Capistrano, decked out in spring plumage of spandex, their vehicles sprouting bike racks and kayaks.
Locals call this the "silly season" in
Utah's southeastern canyon country. But thanks to a dramatic change
in visitor management at several of the area's most popular
attractions, this season will be a lot less
For the first time, recreationists heading
into Sand Flats - home of the world-famous Slickrock Bike Trail -
must pay an entrance fee.
"We've noticed that
just by having the contact station at Sand Flats, it's like
somebody is watching, and people seem to have a greater inclination
not to trash the area," says Brad Palmer, Bureau of Land Management
Grand Resource Area manager.
Sand Flats is just
the latest public-land hotspot around Moab to be subjected to new
visitation controls. At Arches National Park, parking areas are
being monitored to prevent "social crowding" (HCN,
The Colorado Riverway along state Route
128 also has fallen under stricter management. Camping is no longer
allowed anywhere on the riverbanks, but is restricted instead to
designated undeveloped campsites or a series of improved sites
clustered near toilets, picnic tables and fire rings. Campers not
staying in improved areas must have a reusable toilet
But Sand Flats is perhaps the most
innovative effort to control overcrowding and trampling around
Moab. Located just east of the town's cemetery, the 7,240-acre home
of slickrock mountain biking and the Porcupine Jeep Trail has been
a growing headache for Grand County and the BLM. During Easter
break 1993, partying teens staged a near-riot while camped in the
desert outback between two wilderness-study areas (HCN, 9/5/94, p.
After success with a temporary check station
during spring break last year, the county and BLM decided to make
Sand Flats a permanent fee area as of March
Funding for the contact station is shared by
Grand County and by the national AmeriCorps service initiative,
President Clinton's fledgling domestic Peace
"This is the first year for the AmeriCorps
program in the country, and the Sand Flats project really fits with
the community-service aspect of the program," says Craig Bigler,
AmeriCorps coordinator in Moab. "We have nine college-age
employees, and they're all local. You're not usually allowed to
have locals in the AmeriCorps project, but we have such a housing
shortage here that locals are really the only ones who can afford
to work for us and still have a place to live."
Vehicles entering the Sand Flats area are
charged $3 for two people, and $1 for each additional passenger.
Bicyclists are charged $1 to enter, and camping fees are $4 per
In one month of operation, the Sand Flats
contact station collected more than
"That shows you the kind of recreational
pressure we're getting there," says Palmer. "All of the money
collected goes directly into a county fund which has a steering
committee to allocate the money for on-the-ground improvements,
like more vault toilets and trail signs. All the money stays at
Bigler says that while 90 percent
of the recreation visitors favor the entrance fee to preserve the
resource, others complain of having to pay to reach public lands
that always have been open free of charge.
always have a few whiners," "'''Bigler says, "but for most of them,
if you point out that the money stays here instead of going back to
Washington, that clinches it."
The writer works for the
Salt Lake Tribune.