Crews at work improving the BLM’s Take Out Beach boat ramp facility. [Photo credit Rachel Fixsen / Moab Sun News]

Drivers on state Route 128 may have noticed a lot of activity at Take Out Beach, a popular boat ramp on the Colorado River that is used by thousands of both commercial and private boaters as the exit point for the “Moab Daily” raft trip.

“The BLM is expanding the upland area as well as both the downstream and upstream access routes and replacing the shade shelter,” said the BLM in a statement on Mountain Buzz, an online forum for outdoor recreators. “This project is aimed at improving the congestion and traffic flow at this busy facility.”

The Bureau of Land Management-maintained boat ramp has been closed since mid-November of 2019, and will remain closed until early March, while construction crews improve the facility.

Jennifer Jones, recreation planner for the Moab BLM Field Office, said the agency estimates the ramp serves around 80,000 boaters each year. That number is the sum of reports from commercial users, who need a permit from the BLM to operate, and estimates of how many private trips are using the ramps based on “spot checks.” Jones said in 2019, commercial outfitters reported 60,091 passengers and 70,679 user days (which includes overnight trips, in which the same passenger would be on the river for two days). Use of the ramp has increased dramatically over the last 10 years. In 1999, commercial users reported just over 37,000 passengers.

“We don’t really have a tracking mechanism for private [users] because there is no permit required,” Jones said. “But doing spot checks at the boat ramps, I think [80,000] is definitely within reason, if not a low estimate.”

The popularity of the area has made parking and maneuvering at the boat ramp difficult and dangerous. The BLM has been working on a solution for several years. The assessments required by the National Environmental Policy Act were completed in 2013, and several grants and agencies contributed to the funding. User fees from commercial outfitters, a $150,000 Recreation Grant from the Utah Governor’s Office, a Boating Access Grant, which is supplied jointly by Utah State Parks and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and a contribution from the Utah Department of Transportation have all gone toward paying the bill, which will total over $600,000. Grand County acted as a partner with the BLM in securing some of the funding.

The BLM made sure to keep commercial outfitters in the loop and solicit their input on how the ramp could be improved.

“It’s always been that way over the years,” said Mike Hughes, owner of local guide company Adrift Adventures. “They’re always seeking outfitter input to get as many comments [as possible].” He said he received phone calls from the BLM asking for his feedback.

Hughes said his company takes clients down the “Daily” every season and relies heavily on Take Out Beach.

“We’re in there every day from the middle of April through middle to the end of October,” Hughes said, adding that many other companies in town use the same ramp just as often throughout the summer. He appreciates the scheduling of the construction.

“The BLM has been great to work with in that regard, because they try to put that strictly in the shoulder season.”

Jones said the project should be complete by the first week of March

“The one potential delay will be dependent on weather,” she cautioned. “For the paving and striping of the access road, the temperature needs to be a consistent 50-plus degrees.”

Hughes is glad that the BLM is addressing issues at the ramp.

“All those improvements are certainly well-needed because of all the issues with overcrowding,” he said. “It is a dangerous area with traffic on the highway coming through. So they’ve made a lot of great changes to some of the safety aspects.”

Hughes also said that drainage problems at the site have, during high-water times or periods of heavy rain, made parts of the facility inaccessible. He also acknowledged that parking for vehicles and trailers in such limited space is very challenging. He’s optimistic that the improvements will help with congestion and flooding.

“Once the final product is done,” he said, “it’s just going to help everyone, from commercial to private.”

In the meantime, if any winter boaters are planning a trip down the Daily, the BLM recommends other possible take-out points, such as the dirt Ida Gulch boat ramp six miles upstream of Take Out Beach, Sandy Beach, which is two miles upstream of Take Out Beach and has no boat ramp, or Big Bend Campground, two miles downstream of Take Out. Commercial operators, however, are likely to wait for construction to be completed at their aptly-named traditional exit point.

“That’s really the only place we can take out,” Hughes said of Take Out Beach.