Growth is the capitalist’s mantra. If all growth is good, Moab is wildly successful. Then why does it feel like there’s a lot of discontent, grumbling and anxiety in our town?
Growth is good. Too rapid growth is not. Growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. Rapid growth taxes services, creates hasty, ill-conceived solutions, burdens the old and low-income, and crowds out community values before they can be recognized and protected. Moab has very real physical constraints on carrying capacity. Nearly everyone agrees we’re creating discomfort and destruction with our rapid, careless expansion of the tourist economy, with few benefits for citizens, just profits for developers. New jobs are low-paying. Main Street, restaurants and the trailheads are packed, and life is not as peaceful, easy and nurturing for citizens looking for a beautiful, natural, comfortable and relaxing small town home.
Towns that grow at 1 or 2 percent enjoy the benefits of growth without suffering the consequences of overly rapid economic expansion, which tends to benefit outside developers and leaves the townsfolk with the problems and changes. While towns with negative growth suffer from unhappiness, towns that grow too fast also struggle with unhappiness. We should seek a happy medium, and there is at least one obvious way to affect that balance in Moab.
The main culprit, in my mind, is the successful campaign to sell Moab to the world using Transient Room Taxes (TRTs) collected on all overnight accommodations in Grand County. The council has been pushed to believe that this money, designed to offset the impacts of tourism on the town and our natural surroundings, is only available to draw in yet more tourists that are already creating the problems TRTs should be mitigating.
Grand County Council needs to shift money away from carelessly advertising to potential visitors and shift that money into information, education and hospitality campaigns to contact visitors with a low-impact message that focuses on understanding, interpreting and enjoying our beautiful and uniquely impressive surroundings.
The travel council is beginning to advertise activities that are less impacting. While all people are welcome to come, we don’t have to advertise the usually more destructive activities that I enjoy, such as 4-wheeling, dirt biking, mountain biking, boating and RV camping … there’s already plenty of us that will come without your encouragement.
Less impact per individual means more people can experience canyon country, and it converts to more dollars in the pockets of locals and less cost to mitigate the impact of heavy users. Rock crawlers and all-terrain vehicles may be fun, but they are very expensive for our community in terms of noise, smell, destruction of the backcountry and trucks and trailers taking up parking space. I won’t even get started on tying off-road vehicle users as a group increasing crime in the communities they frequent. Lastly, we should create local jobs educating and defending and repairing our home using the money we’ve been sending to out-of-town advertising firms. Keep it local.