The agenda for the Feb. 16 Grand County Commission meeting included two items related to special event permits, with an eye toward allowing the beloved annual Easter Jeep Safari event to take place this spring after being canceled in 2020. Both items passed unanimously.

The first item was a change to a recent ordinance that placed restrictions on special events according to the current COVID-19 transmission risk level as determined by the state’s classification system. Under that ordinance, when the county is considered at the High risk level (which it currently is), indoor events are not allowed, and outdoor events may have no more than 250 participants per day. The change approved at Tuesday’s meeting makes that cap apply to discrete locations or start/finish times, separated by at least a ¼ mile or 30 minutes.

The other item was to approve the Jeep Safari itself. Events that host 1,000 or more participants must be approved by the commission. Moab Area Travel Council Director and Special Events Committee member Elaine Gizler presented the Safari event for the commission’s consideration, noting that it will comply with the amended special events ordinance. Old Spanish Trail Arena Director Angie Book also called in to detail some of the precautions the event plans to enact. The usual vendor expo will not be part of the 2021 event; the arena will only be used for registration for two hours each morning. Registration for organized trail rides will be limited to 25 or 35 Jeeps, depending on the trailhead; analysis shows an average of 2.5 participants per Jeep.

The amendment was subject to a public hearing, which took place during the Feb. 16 commission meeting. No citizens attended to comment.

“That’s a bit of a surprise,” said Commission Chair Mary McGann, when no one came forward to speak on the amendment.

Commissioner Walker remarked that the amendment is a good balance between safeguarding against the spread of coronavirus and allowing events reasonable latitude.

“I’m in favor of this sort of amendment… I know in this county we take COVID seriously and we’ve put more energy than most counties into making sure it doesn’t spread. But I think this change to the rules, even though it’s technically loosening things up, I think it does it in a very rational way. I’m glad we can show this sort of flexibility.”

The 2021 Jeep Safari has been the subject of confusion and heated debates on social media. Prospective attendees rode a roller coaster of changing expectations as the event was canceled, then announced to be in a “fluid situation,” then canceled again, and then on again pending the possible amendment to the special events ordinance. Some online commenters accused Grand County of deliberately sabotaging the Jeep Safari.

According to the event’s website, general registration opens on Feb. 23. The event will take place from March 27 to April 4.

“I’m glad we can show this sort of flexibility.”

– Kevin Walker