Moab Half Marathon runners race down state Route 128 east of Moab. [Photo by Zazoosh Media, Inc. / Courtesy of Ranna Bieschke]

The Moab Half Marathon has kicked off the spring season in Moab for nearly 40 years, bringing the first wave of visitors to town after many a long, quiet winter.

But the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is now requiring the half marathon to obtain a new permit that owner and organizer Ranna Bieschke says is unwarranted, and will harm event attendance.

“They want to charge me $5 a head for an event that takes place on a paved road,” Bieschke told the Moab Sun News.

In response, Moab Half Marathon, Inc., has filed an appeal that asks the Interior Board of Land Appeals to issue a stay on the decision.

In a letter to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, BLM attorney-adviser James Karkut said the agency requires other organizations that make commercial use of public lands to obtain Special Recreation Permits for their activities. The time is right, he wrote, to bring Moab Half Marathon’s activities under the “proper regulatory scheme.”

The race takes place on state Route 128 east of Moab, and passes through lands administered by the BLM.

The event attracts approximately 4,000 runners, as well as their friends and families, and provides an economic jump start for area businesses.

For the past nine years, the race has operated under a land use permit which came up for renewal every three years. The permit allowed Moab Half Marathon to utilize lands the BLM managed along the roadside, including the parking area at the Grandstaff Trailhead, but it made no stipulation about the use of lands associated with the roadway itself.

Prior to 2006, the event took place with no permit requirement at all.

On March 22, 2015, the existing land use permit expired, and BLM officials informed Bieschke that future permitting for the race, as well as The Other Half race, would be more appropriate under a Special Recreation Permit.

“We’ve been running this event for 40 years,” Bieschke said. “And now we’re being told that we’ve been operating under the wrong permit.”

Other events subject to Special Recreation Permits include the Gran Fondo and Skinny Tire Festival road bike rides, and the Red Rock Relay running event, all of which use state Route 128.

Bieschke said that the fees levied under the Special Recreation Permit would amount to an 11,000 percent increase over what she has been paying to hold the races in the past. The increase would have to be offset either by passing it along to runners – which she fears will reduce participation – or by hiring less staff, which will result in a loss of jobs to the area, she said.

“This will also impact how much money we have to give to local charities,” she said.

Over the past five years, Moab Half Marathon donated nearly $100,000 to local nonprofits and community organizations such as Moab Regional Hospital, Seekhaven, Canyonlands Community Recycling and the Canyonlands Rodeo Committee.

According to BLM Moab Field Office Manager Beth Ransel, the agency’s policy requires Special Recreation Permits for any commercial-recreational activity on public land.

“Requiring a Special Recreation Permit for recreational activities allows the BLM to ensure that impacts are minimized for campers and other recreational users of the area,” she said. “It ensures that oversight and monitoring are provided for the event, that the federal government is protected against potential liabilities, and that the public receives a fair return for use of the public lands to make a profit.”

Moab attorney Christina Sloan, who is representing Moab Half Marathon, said that since the fees are fixed by code, they are not proportional to the BLM’s administrative time to permit or monitor the races. Nor are they in the spirit of which Special Recreation Permits are intended, she said.

Sloan said that the BLM is in error because the highway easement deed for state Route 128 reserves to the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) the right to authorize uses that interfere with traffic or impair use of the road, including such activities as the road races.

“The intent of (Special Recreation Permit) statutes is to regulate traditional use on public lands including impacts to dirt roads, trails and backcountry areas,” she said. “The intent is not to compensate the BLM for the use of roadways that aren’t even managed by them.”

Karkut countered that under a 2005 agreement, the BLM retained the rights to authorize uses on any portion of the road’s right-of-way for non-highway purposes.

The parties met in July 2015, when the BLM proposed merging the existing Special Recreation Permit for Moab Half Marathon’s Thelma and Louise race, with the Half Marathon, The Other Half and Winter Sun 10K.

Bieschke obtained a Special Recreation Permit for the Thelma and Louise Race in 2013, but said that BLM officials assured her that her other events would be grandfathered in.

In September, Sloan submitted a waiver request, as well as a new application for a land use permit. The BLM formally denied the request on Oct. 15, saying that Moab Half Marathon didn’t meet the criteria for a waiver, and reiterating that the agency is acting in compliance with regulations governing permitting and fees.

“The BLM Moab Field Office highly values recreational opportunities provided to the public and the community through our permitting program,” Ransel said. “The BLM facilitates those outstanding recreational opportunities on the public lands around Moab through administration of more than 300 BLM special recreation permits.”

Bieschke said that she understands the need for a permitting process, but thinks that BLM needs to restructure its fees for events happening on pavement.

“This permit is intended to address impacts to the land for off road events,” she said. “It doesn’t seem fair. We don’t damage the land. We don’t need any BLM oversight.”

Event organizer says change will affect turnout; BLM says fee is fair

This permit is intended to address impacts to the land for off road events … It doesn’t seem fair. We don’t damage the land. We don’t need any BLM oversight.

Requiring a Special Recreation Permit for recreational activities allows the BLM to ensure that impacts are minimized for campers and other recreational users of the area.