The crowd at the bowling alley checks out the prizes at the raffle night. [Photo credit Sarah Sorg.]

The day before Thanksgiving, Moab’s Gravel Pit Lanes bowling alley was packed with over 200 people who were there to show appreciation for the community that has been a gathering place for their group.

It’s an annual fundraiser called the Turkey Boogie, organized by BASE jumpers from the Moab area. This year they raised just under $21,000 to donate to Grand County Search and Rescue and other local organizations.

BASE stands for buildings, antennas, spans and earth, which are the four kinds of structures from which BASE jumpers launch, wearing a parachute. “Spans” refers to bridges, and “earth” means mountains, canyons, cliff and towers, making Moab a natural home for the sport.

Matt Lajeunesse, who organizes the event, said his favorite part is “seeing a community of such unique diversity and characters come together to raise a ton of money for a town and location that we love.”

In fact, Moab is so popular with BASE jumpers that the local Bureau of Land Management office has two areas they manage specifically with BASE jumping in mind. One of those areas is Mineral Bottom, where a past donation from the BASE community helped fund the installation of a toilet.

“It’s a huge deal for the BASE community to support the BLM in their efforts,” said Jennifer Jones, the BLM Recreation Planner for the Moab Field Office. “I think we here in Moab are very fortunate to have somebody like Matt who sees the benefit of having a partnership with the managing agency.”

Jones represents the BLM at the Turkey Boogie and has attended the raffle night at the bowling alley for the past five years. She has three main messages for BASE jumpers and other BLM land users: keep all vehicles on designated roads and trails, bring your own firewood and do not burn the natural vegetation, and pack out solid human and dog waste.

Jones said the community has listened.

“Just helping them to understand what the issues are—the community has been receptive to that,” she said.

The event raises money through the sale of raffle tickets and t-shirt sales. Sponsors of the event included manufacturers of BASE jumping gear like Squirrel, Apex, Phoenix fly, and TonySuits, as well as local businesses like Moab Garage Co., Love Muffin, and Eddie McStiff’s. Prizes include items like gift certificates, GoPro cameras, slacklines and climbing ropes.

Lajeunesse said they plan to divide this year’s funds among several organizations in addition to Grand County Search and Rescue. Past recipients have included the Seekhaven Crisis Center, Grand Area Mentoring, Grand County Emergency Medical Services, the National Park Service, and the Youth Garden Project.

“It’s always wonderful to get donations from community groups or people and we welcome that,” said Jim Webster, Commander of Grand County Search and Rescue. He said donations they receive go toward purchasing equipment and training for SAR team members.

Webster said that several years ago the SAR team was able to buy a jet boat after a substantial donation from the BASE jumper community.

“It was one of the holes we had in our equipment operation, where we didn’t really have a good boat for low water or flat water operations,” said Webster, pointing out that the support helped the team address the issue.

The group also sometimes sets aside funds for individuals or families they know are in need. Shortly before last year’s Turkey Boogie, three men were killed in an accident at the Intrepid Potash Mine. Turkey Boogie organizers chose to give some of the funds they raised to the families of those men.

Lajeunesse has been BASE jumping for 14 years and organizing the Turkey Boogie for the last seven. Next year, he said, he will be passing leadership of the fundraiser on to other BASE jumpers.

“Anytime you hold on to something too long, you suffocate it,” he said. “I want to see what the younger generation does to breathe life into it.”

Jones, for one, will be sorry to see Lajeunesse go, but she looks forward to working with next year’s organizers.

“He’s a pretty charismatic, unique individual and he’s going to be a tough act to follow,” she said of Lajeunesse. “But I’m very confident the community is full of intelligent and creative folks who hopefully will be able to carry on his legacy.”

Lajeunesse has also expressed high expectations of his fellow BASE jumpers.

“BASE jumpers are outliers—when they put their minds to something, it’s pretty much certain that the goal will be achieved,” he said. “Usually that means some outdoor challenge and achievement, but in this instance, it is giving back to the place and people we love.”

“BASE jumpers are outliers—when they put their minds to something, it’s pretty much certain that the goal will be achieved.”

– Matt Lajeunesse

BASE jumpers donate to community organizations