The Grand County Special Events Coordinating Committee and the Grand County Council have worked out a compromise with the organizers of the annual Rally on the Rocks event, held each May in Moab.
The festival, a five-day trail-riding event for off-road vehicles referred to as UTVs, was approved for a permit for the year 2020 with a few new conditions. The following year, the council will consider whether organizers met those conditions and adequately addressed Moab residents’ complaints about traffic and noise stemming from the rally.
UTV enthusiasts attending the rally bring their off-road vehicles to town to join in guided rides on some of Moab’s famous 4×4 roads and trails. The gathering draws hundreds of visitors and around six hundred UTVs to Moab.
However, each year, citizens complain about the event. In 2017, then-mayor Dave Sakrison wrote a letter to the county council urging them not to renew the permit for Rally on the Rocks, citing residents’ concerns about UTV noise and “extreme” disruptions to the community.
“We’ve tried this event year after year, and it results, year after year, in extreme frustration and outrage by the citizens of the community,” said Moab resident Neal Clark in a public comment at the Aug. 22 meeting of the Grand County Council, echoing concerns raised by citizens in past years and previous meetings. “I think at a certain point we have to realize that it’s just fundamentally incompatible with what we’re trying to do with having a quality of life here.”
Sean Reddish, founder of WORCS Racing and a co-organizer of Rally on the Rocks, also addressed the council at the Aug. 22 meeting.
“Everything that’s been asked of us as we’ve grown or as it’s evolved—we’ve hit that benchmark,” he said.
“I’m willing to work within the parameters that you guys set,” Reddish told the council, “there’s a couple new things here—we can absolutely hit that benchmark.”
Grand County Sheriff’s Sergeant Curt Brewer also attended the meeting to give details on the safety and law enforcement measures taken by the police force.
Brewer began by noting, “I’m not here to promote the event. I’m here just to promote the safety part of it.”
He continued,“To me this is a good event. It’s a controlled event; these are good people that come here. With this event, we don’t have to put ten officers on Potato Salad Hill all day long for three days,” he added, referencing the annual Jeep Safari.
Brewer explained that five officers are designated to provide morning and afternoon escorts for UTVs from the Rally headquarters at the Old Spanish Trail Arena (OSTA) to the Sand Flats and Kane Creek areas. Organizers will reimburse the sheriff’s office for fourteen thousand dollars for police services—one of the conditions posed for approval of the permit.
“I like doing the escorts, rather than just letting them go out and meet at the trailheads. These escorts are controlled,” Brewer said. He said the escorts could efficiently move the UTVs from the arena to their destinations within thirty to fifty minutes, minimizing safety concerns and traffic disruptions.
Councilmember Terry Morse voiced a concern about UTV activity after the day’s trail riding.
“I live on a street that’s in a school zone, and I can almost guarantee you that the maximum problem is after the trail riding is done during the day, say between five and nine or ten o’clock at night,” he said, noting that many UTV riders do not obey posted speed limits in town.
“I think the sheriff’s department could probably go a long way in funding their coffers if they sat out there and gave a few tickets,” Morse suggested. “Plus I think it would give pause… to the folks that like to do that. Because I think that, at least in my neighborhood, that’s probably the source of the consternation, just the lack of respect of the speed laws and the traffic laws. And I know that we’re a friendly community and I really applaud that–but a few warnings may help.”
Brewer agreed and emphasized that the county and city police would be stepping up enforcement on speed limits as well as checking that UTVs are properly registered.
“I live in an area that’s a school zone, a residential area, and I get them going past my house all hours of the day and night,” Brewer empathized. “So I feel the same way.”
Local organizations report that the Rally brings economic benefits to the county.
According to notes from the Special Events Committee meeting, hotels reported that they get repeat customers from the Rally.
Old Spanish Trail Arena officials reported that the rally brought in about ten thousand dollars in revenue for the county, and in 2019 the Rally donated a UTV worth fifty thousand dollars to Grand County Search and Rescue. Another of the conditions of granting the permit for 2020 is that the event continues to donate to local organizations.
According to the other agreed-upon conditions, the Rally may not increase the current number of participants that can register, and all participants must sign a pledge to reduce noise levels in residential and business areas in Moab.
Vendors participating in the Rally must display an educational poster on preserving, protecting, and respecting the landscape and community and must direct customers to this information before completing a sale.
Prospective participants will also have to watch an educational UTV etiquette video, produced by the Moab Area Travel Council before they are able to register for the festival. The video is embedded in the Rally website and will also be playing at vendors’ booths and at the event headquarters.
Participants must obey speed limits, slow down while driving in town and may not drive their UTVs in residential areas between nine at night and seven in the morning.
Reddish assured the council that Rally organizers are willing to work with the county to make the event acceptable to the community. He said he read the twenty-four emailed complaints about the 2019 rally, and reached out to those who gave contact information to ask how they could address those complaints.
However, there was still a lengthy, and at times contentious, discussion of how to create enforceable noise reduction measures.
Reddish objected to some suggestions like requiring muffler silencers and banning aftermarket exhaust systems.
“Noise on a side-by-side, most predominately the droning noise that you hear, is caused by the tires,” he asserted.
He also said noise testing and enforcement is problematic, because a vehicle under testing conditions may be much quieter than it is under normal use. For example, the engine may run quietly at idle, while lugged tires may be loud while driving on the road.
“The number one thing we can do that’s productive is to slow them down,” Reddish said, “because that’s where most of the noise comes from, because they’re doing higher RPMs, [causing] more exhaust noise, more tire noise–so it just all culminates into what it is.”
He added that he agreed with councilmember Morse that officers should be readily issuing citations to speed limit violators.
“The more tickets, the better, because it really sends a message,” he said.
Not all visitors drawn to Moab by the Rally register as participants, however. Council members raised concerns that these UTV users would slip past the registration requirements.
Brewer noted that non-participating vehicles would still be subject to traffic citations, and Reddish said any non-registered visitors drawn to the rally’s vendors would still encounter the educational messages endorsed by the event.
“UTVs are here—that horse left the barn a while back,” Reddish said. “We can do our part in education—we have a big reach with all the vendors and the industry people that are here, and we’re willing to do everything we can. I appreciate the potential opportunity to be successful in doing that, and all I can do is ask for that.”
Moab Cowboy Country Offroad Adventures owner Kent Green, whose business offers guided off-road tours, said he understands the concerns people have about the Rally on the Rocks event, but cautioned against “targeting one industry” with blanket restrictions such as being off residential roads after 9 p.m.
“The problem I’m having is we are requiring only one event to do this. And that’s not right,” he said, adding that everyone who recreates in the Moab area—whether it be motorized or not—needs education.
Green said he was a law enforcement officer at a time when another large Moab event, Jeep Safari, was “out of hand.” Green said law enforcement focused on controlling that event, and “it took two or three years” but they got it.
“But you can’t just regulate one group’s freedom,” he said.