Visitors from San Juan, Puerto Rico, study a map and wear helmets in an off-road side-by-side at the Sand Flats Recreation Area on Sept. 3. While they had not seen the travel council’s educational UTV video, they believe such videos will “absolutely help” visitors to understand recreation etiquette and safety in the Moab area. [Photo by Ashley Bunton / Moab Sun News]

“Stay on the trail” signs aim to remind visitors of their surroundings in the Moab area, and now the local travel council is producing a series of educational videos to keep visitors on the trails.

“Providing educational videos is a way for us to have (visitors) prepare before their visit,” Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Elaine Gizler said.

The travel council released its most recent educational video on Aug. 22 with a focus on side-by-side utility vehicles (UTVs).

Gizler said she realized the need to produce an educational video about UTVs after working with the travel council and the local Throttle Down Committee.

“We began with the focus of UTVs in town and in Sand Flats since these areas are most impacted,” Gizler said. “The key messages we wanted to get out were, ‘Stay on the trail’ and ‘Are you street legal?’”

Two visitors from San Juan, Puerto Rico, riding in a side-by-side UTV at the Sand Flats Recreation Area on Sept. 3, said they had not seen the travel council’s educational UTV video, but said such videos will “absolutely help” tourists to understand recreation etiquette and safety.

Jason Minasian owns Moab Side X Side, a company that offers tours, rentals and a full-service garage for off-road vehicles. His company wasn’t featured in the travel council’s educational video, but he said that he, and other off-road vehicle businesses, are frequently contacted by out-of-town visitors with questions.

“I get phone calls daily and we educate people on being street legal and staying on the trails,” Minasian said. “My main goal is educating people who come into Moab with a side by side, so they don’t upset or offend people in the community.”

He said that when he gives clients maps, they ask if they can go “anywhere they want to” because they aren’t accustomed to the area and don’t have to stay on the trails in the region from which they come.

“I remind people to stay on the trail and be safe so we can all enjoy this for the future,” Minasian said.

Gizler said the UTV video is “one of the most important videos we could produce.” The video also offers suggestions like taking plenty of water along for a ride, looking out for other trail riders on steep hills and wearing protective safety gear.

Before Labor Day weekend, Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) told the Moab Sun News that safety is important with recreational UTVs. OPEI is an international trade association that represents UTV manufacturers and suppliers.

“While UTVs are a lot of fun to drive, they should be treated like work vehicles, not toys,” OPEI President Kris Kiser said.

Grand County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responded to the Sand Flats Recreation Area in July when a UTV rollover on the Hell’s Revenge trail crushed a rider’s hand.

“Injuries usually occur because the individual put a limb outside of the roll cage,” said Grand County EMS Clinical and Outreach Coordinator McKay Vowles, “or the individual is not wearing protective equipment, like helmets and gloves.”

Sand Flats Recreation Area Recreation Technician Matt Olding is featured in the UTV educational video and said cellular service is spotty in the area.

“Let somebody know when you’re going to be back and what you’re doing,” he says in the educational video.

The educational video, posted on the Discover Moab website, is being shared on social media, distributed to the Utah Office of Tourism and sent to international travel agencies and the “targeted” areas from which large numbers of visitors bring their UTVs, like Colorado, Gizler said.

Other educational videos released by the travel council address rafting on the Colorado River, mountain biking, a “weekend getaway with the girls,” and a canyoneering feature with Navtec Canyoneering Guide Mike Spitz.

The cost of producing each video is $5,000, Gizler said, and some of the funding to pay for it comes from the Transient Room Tax (TRT) allocated by the county. Gizler said the travel council also receives grants.

“The travel council is taking a look at all the outdoor activities visitors can enjoy while in Moab,” Gizler said. “We are taking one activity at a time and reaching out to all of our local outfitters, and our filmmaker, to make it happen.”

She said local outfitters volunteered their time to work with the filmmaker, Mark Finley, from Finley Holiday Films in Whittier, California, on the UTV educational video.

Finley Holiday Films has produced an array of travel DVDs about the national parks, including Arches National Park in 2008. Finley travels to Moab and films using the script from the travel council.

“Once the filming is complete, he then creates the video and we work with him to refine,” Gizler said. “For instance, on the UTV (video) we had the three UTV companies and their employees, and some family in the filming. It was a coordinated effort.”

Gizler said Moab Cowboy, High Point Hummer and Moab Tour Company collaborated to make the educational video, along with Moab City Police Chief Jim Winder. The video is less than five minutes in length, and Gizler said the short length keeps the person engaged in watching the video.

“If a video is too long, and not interesting, the person will exit,” Gizler said. “We want (visitors) to find it engaging, interesting and educational so when they arrive in Moab they already know what is expected.”

Gizler said more educational videos and guides will be released in the coming months, including a promotion for “sustainable tourism.”

The travel council is planning to work with the City of Moab and the National Park Service to develop more content, and Gizler said the council has enough footage to create and release “public service educational films” in 2019 using some of the video footage that is already on file.

Shawn Pilibosian, of Moab, said he hasn’t been visiting the Sand Flats Recreation Area as much as he used to, but when he does go, he notices the effects on the land from visitors frequenting the area.

“From growing up here, to compared to just even the last five years, it’s almost like an amusement park going up Hell’s Revenge,” Pilibosian said. “It seems like it’s doing a lot of damage. People are doing their best to stay on trail, but that’s going to be there forever, the marks they leave behind if they go off trail.”

He said he thinks it’s important for the travel council to make and distribute the educational videos.

“This could have been preventative maintenance, rather than pick-up-the-pieces, but it’s awesome that they’re going to start doing it now,” Pilibosian said.

Travel council speaks to tourists with short film about impacts and trail rules

“We began with the focus of UTVs in town and in Sand Flats since these areas are most impacted. The key messages we wanted to get out were, ‘Stay on the trail’ and ‘Are you street legal?’”