Average number of UTVs entering Sand Flats Recreation Area for each day of the week, with data collected since March 15, 20201. [Graph: Sand Flats Recreation Area]

Data collected since March by Sand Flats Recreation Area staff show that on busy weekends over 300 UTVs drive past the entry booth daily, either as part of a guided tour, in a rental vehicle or in a privately owned vehicle.

Sand Flats staff have begun collecting data on UTVs entering the recreation area. The Grand County Commission asked Sand Flats Director Andrea Brand to start tracking the data, and Brand said the Bureau of Land Management is also interested in the results. Sand Flats is co-managed through a partnership between Grand County and the BLM.

Brand said Sand Flats has had a busy spring overall, with an over-25% increase in visitation of all kinds compared to 2019.

“That’s a big jump,” she said. “Usually we make a jump of 5 or 7% a year.”

March, April, May and October are usually the busiest months, Brand said, but the hot summer months are getting busier each year, in part because of the rising popularity of tours and rentals. She said Sand Flats staff have noticed an increase in UTV use as more UTV rental businesses have opened in the area.

On May 27, the county sponsored a voluntary sound testing day at Sand Flats, as Grand County and the city of Moab recently passed new noise ordinances that cap sound emissions from vehicles at 92 decibels when measured using a standard test conducted 20 inches from the vehicle’s tailpipe while stationary.

Data collected at the event found that vehicle-owners who were willing to participate largely had machines that were permitted within the new decibel limit. Law enforcement officials have stated that officers will focus on education rather than citations for loud machines for the first year of the new noise ordinances being in place.

The Sand Flats Recreation Area itself owns a Polaris General UTV for conducting patrols and maintenance. Staff had the vehicle tested at the May 27 event and got a reading of 92 decibels, just within compliance with the new regulations.

“We would have preferred a Honda,” Brand said, noting that some Honda UTV models have been tested at as low as 85 decibels. Government purchasing policy dictated the selection of the Polaris.

Since March, Sand Flats entry booth staff have taken note of local company logos on UTVs, talked to local guides leading groups, or have simply asked drivers if they’re renting or using their own vehicle. The tallies are entered into Sand Flats’ point-of-sale system. The data is available in graph form at https://www.grandcountyutah.net/1132/Statistics.

The graphs, illustrating data from March through June, show that on busy weekends, the total number of UTVs entering Sand Flats can be close to 300, though the average Friday or Saturday sees about 200 UTVs. The slowest days of the week are Tuesday and Sunday.

“Sundays, people are leaving,” Brand explained, though she noted that on weekends preceding a Monday holiday: “Sunday becomes like Saturday.”

The graphs also show that on most days, at least half of the UTVs coming into Sand Flats are owned by a local business, either as part of guided tours or rented out to clients for independent use.

County Commissioner Kevin Walker, who has been putting the raw data into graphs for the county website, said this percentage is significant. Local policymakers have been looking for ways to reduce traffic noise in town, and many residents perceive the increase in UTV traffic in recent years as a primary contributor to noise levels.

While local officials are limited by state law in their ability to regulate UTVs, they do have substantial authority to regulate local businesses. In addressing UTVs directly, Walker said, “we have one hand tied behind our back; for rentals and tours, we can use both hands.”

While planners, managers, and policymakers are interested in the data, it’s still only one slice of the full picture of what’s happening in Grand County.

“It’s just the data at Sand Flats,” Brand acknowledged. Staff will continue tallying UTV use throughout the year.