[Courtesy photo]

The Scott and Norma Matheson Wetlands Preserve announced that it would indefinitely close its gates to the public due to overuse and “people not following guidelines,” according to a statement released by The Nature Conservancy, which owns and manages the preserve along with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

“With the abuses I’ve seen recently, closing was an easy choice,” said Linda Whitham, the Central Canyonlands program manager with The Nature Conservancy. “It’s a private piece of land that we open to the public as a courtesy to the public. People here let us know how special it was. But for now we have to close it for safety.”

Whitham said that the preserve has seen an increase in discarded trash, illegal camping and other violations of visitor guidelines.

“There’s been an increase in visitation to Moab and that impacts us,” said Whitham. “We love to see people visiting but we don’t really have any kind of enforcement capability.”

Whitham said that she was packing out large amounts of discarded beer bottles and garbage each week, but what really troubled her were the safety implications of illegal camping and increased traffic along Kane Creek Boulevard.

“We saw an illegal camper with a fire ring right under some electrical wires,” she said. “We had several hundred acres burn just years ago so that’s scary.”

Whitham said that the final straw was a morning when she discovered the Preserve parking lot was “filled up with trailers being used as a staging area for UTVs to access Kane Creek.” Trailer parking is prohibited.

“There are so many people, so many vehicles and so many issues,” said Whitham. “It’s Spring Break but I want a game plan with the police, sheriff’s office, and the DWR conservation officer before I open the gates again.”

Whitham said that she hoped the area would be able to reopen to the community after the busy holiday tourism season.

“We want to stay open, but we need the community to help us,” she said. “Please don’t litter. Don’t take your dog here. Please don’t ride your bike on these trails. If we open up and things go sideways again, we’ll just close.”