Grand County Sheriff’s Lt. Kim Neal was extremely busy over Memorial Day weekend, but not for the reasons that one might suspect.
“I planted a salsa garden, I painted and I fixed my dryer,” he said.
Wait a minute: What about responding to incidents like major traffic accidents, reports of lost tourists or random acts of high-profile crime?
“It was quiet,” Neal told the Moab Sun News.
Well, maybe not quiet: Concerns about noise and heavy traffic once again resurfaced during the busiest time of the year in Moab, as visitors flocked to the city and its surrounding national parks and public lands. But law enforcement officials and search and rescue responders reported that things were quiet in the sense that there were no major incidents over the three-day holiday.
“Overall, my phone didn’t ring, so that’s a good thing,” Grand County Sheriff Steve White said. “There were a lot of people in town, and there was a lot of stuff going on, but we didn’t have too many problems.”
Grand County Search and Rescue Commander Jim Webster said his team did not receive any calls on Saturday, May 28, and handled just one call each on Sunday, May 29, and Monday, May 30.
One of those calls involved a group of lost all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riders in the White Wash Sand Dunes area about 50 miles northwest of Moab. However, the search and rescue team was able to resolve the situation over the phone, without responding to the scene.
“All in all, it was a pretty quiet weekend,” Webster said.
Attendance at Arches and Canyonlands national parks was expected to surpass last year’s Memorial Day weekend records. National Park Service Southeast Utah Group Superintendent Kate Cannon doesn’t have the final visitation numbers yet, but she said that a “heck of a lot” of people passed through Arches and Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky District.
There were times over the weekend when visitation at Arches reached its capacity, and a Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) contractor had to periodically close the right-turn lane into the park’s main entryway.
However, there were no repeats of last year’s Memorial Day weekend traffic nightmares – an outcome that Cannon attributes to the agency’s successful pre-planning and visitor outreach efforts. Both Cannon and Arches National Park Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services Mary Wilson thanked park service employees for the work they did in advance – and throughout the weekend – to manage the crowds.
“It was all hands on deck,” Wilson said.
Cannon also credited local businesses and others for spreading the word that Arches and Canyonlands would be jam-packed, and suggesting less-crowded places that tourists could visit during their stay.
Motos in Moab brings hundreds of motorcyclists to area
In addition to more and more visitors at the two national parks and nearby public lands, the Motos in Moab event drew about 800 motorcyclists to the privately owned Kane Springs Campground off Kane Creek Boulevard.
Neal said his office received two complaints about speeding on Kane Creek, and sheriff’s deputies periodically monitored traffic along the road throughout the weekend.
But there were no reports of more serious incidents, such as fights. Neal said that event organizers were well-prepared with their own security team, emergency medical technicians and support crews.
Motos in Moab founder and organizer Juan Coles of Sandy said that he and others planned the event carefully in advance to pull off a safe event.
“It was a lot of work and a lot of effort,” he said. “Our team, I think, did a really good job.”
The event set up shop near Moab because Coles loves the area, and he said he is sensitive to residents’ concerns about impacts from noise and speeding vehicles on Kane Creek Boulevard.
“The message that we have is that we are guests and we need to be respectful because we want to be in the city,” he said. “We don’t want to mess stuff up.”
Speaking as a private citizen and as a former county planning commissioner, Moab City Council member Kalen Jones said he observed potential violations of the county’s land use code at the campground, such as campers setting up tents beyond established sites. In addition, he said he saw two men urinating in public view near the road.
But Jones, who lives on Kane Creek Boulevard, said that many of the complaints he heard from others centered largely around the issue of noise pollution.
“It’s the sound that really seems to get people,” he said.
Jones bought the highest-rated phone app he could find to measure noise levels, and from the vantage point of his driveway, he said that sounds from passing motorcycles exceeded the city’s noise standards.
“It’s hardly scientific, but it got me thinking that we should be looking at sound impacts more critically and objectively,” Jones said.
Those impacts are not just confined to the Motos in Moab event, he said.
“It seems that the nature of the vehicles we’re being flooded with on spring weekends don’t meet those same standards,” he said.
In the future, he said he hopes that everyone from city and county officials to federal land managers will take a more thorough look at potential impacts as they review applications for special events like Motos in Moab.
“Even though it occurs in the county, much of the impacts are on the city,” Jones said. “Everyone has to travel on city roads and pass by city residences.”
Beyond Jones’ house, Kane Creek Boulevard has few year-round residents, but one of them – Ross High – lives just across the road from the Kane Springs Campground.
High said the event wound up where it was last weekend because its previous campground host booted Motos in Moab out of its original home last year. There were about 50 people that year, he said, compared to this year’s crowd of hundreds.
Those motorcyclists repeatedly stirred up 30- to 40-foot tall dust clouds, he said, and the sound of motors revving up and down the canyon – morning, noon and night – was constant.
No curfew or noise restrictions were in place on late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, he said, and the cacophony continued until 2 a.m. or so, adding to his concerns about the event.
“It’s the noise; it’s the debris; it’s the pollution; it’s the lawless attitude,” he said.
With more and more people coming to Moab, he questioned the impacts that growing numbers of special events and tourists are having on the surrounding environment.
“Moab has got to ask itself this question: If we’re inviting the world and the tourists and the motorcyclists, what’s the effect on nature?” he asked.
High moved to the area almost five years ago because it reminded him of Heber City when he was growing up. But he began to notice a change about three years ago, and if the community continues down its current course, he said he fears that “industrial tourism” will ruin Moab in another five years.
“Edward Abbey would be rolling over in his grave if he saw what was happening to Moab right now,” he said. “This is exactly what he was talking about.”
While tourists spend money in the community, High said the costs of increased visitation are coming at the expense of the community’s strained infrastructure and quality of life.
“With the influx of people, I’d like to know where the tax revenue is going,” he said. “It’s not going into the streets.”
High would like to see someone set up a toll booth like the one at Sand Flats Recreation Area, and then cap the number of vehicles that can travel down the road on any given day.
“It’s a freaking nature’s wonder,” he said. “It’s like Arches. Would the (National Park Service) let them up in Arches like they’re doing here?”
Coles said he takes seriously the kinds of concerns that High raised.
Once everyone packed up and left the campground, Coles said he and other event organizers spent the next two days cleaning up after them.
“I can honestly say that it looks better than it did when we found it,” he said.
Like any other event, he said, Motos in Moab attracted a couple of “bad eggs.” Ironically enough, he said, the “bad eggs” in this case appeared to be Moab-area residents.
“There were a few guys that we had to pull aside and a couple that we threw out because they were not following the rules,” he said.
However, he said he wants to make it clear that Motos in Moab attendees are motorcycle aficionados who reject any signs of a gang presence, such as logos on clothing.
“We don’t allow that because they bring a certain type of negativity that we don’t want,” Coles said. “We’re not what people (might) think we are. We’re just young motorcycle enthusiasts who are pretty inclusive, men and women.”
This year’s event brought first-time visitors to Moab from across the U.S. and Canada, and as far away as England, Spain and Australia, including Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride founder Mark Hawwa, he said.
Motos in Moab is not a Harley Davidson-only event, and attendees brought models from Japan and Russia, as well as vintage and custom-made bikes, touring the area’s outdoor attractions during their stay.
“We didn’t organize the rides,” Coles said. “We wanted people to go off and see things on their own.”
In the event that Motos in Moab grows significantly in the future, Coles said that organizers will look elsewhere for additional space – possibly on other privately owned lands that are out of the city’s earshot.
“If we get big enough, we would have to go farther away to the outskirts,” he said. “I think that would be good for everyone: We’d have room to grow, and the locals wouldn’t be as concerned about the noise.”
Motos in Moab event raises ire of some; Organizer says he is committed to working with the community
There were a lot of people in town, and there was a lot of stuff going on, but we didn’t have too many problems.