The Grand County Commission recently updated the county’s permitting process for special events like races, concerts, festivals, rallies and conventions.
At their July 19 meeting, commissioners approved four applications for special events featuring motorized use, a category that’s been under extra scrutiny amid the ongoing discussion around increased traffic noise in the valley.
Commissioners agreed the process of evaluating applications still isn’t perfect, and they hope in the future to regularly consider proposed events in a larger context—the busiest tourist seasons, the number of similar events going on, when events tend to be clustered on the calendar, which venues are seeing the most use—rather than considering each event individually.
The four events approved this week and scheduled for later in the year are the Red Rock 4 Wheelers Labor Day Safari and Camp-Out, a long-standing mini-version of the Jeep Safari, organized by a local group; the Jeep Jamboree, a long-running event sponsored by an out-of-town organization; the PGP Auto Show, a locally organized event that debuted last year; and the Moab Overland Expo, an event that would be new in Moab in 2022.
The two newest events generated the most discussion. Old Spanish Trail Arena Director Angie Book reported that last year’s PGP Auto Show went well and generated no complaints other than regarding the price of admission; no commissioners remembered an increase in noise or traffic in town related to the show.
Commissioner Sarah Stock spoke against approving the Moab Overland Expo, arguing that it’s organized by and aims to serve nonlocals, and invites more motorized use to Moab.
“I don’t think we need this,” Stock said. While she said the county should continue to welcome car campers, she said, Moab is already well-known enough as a destination.
“I don’t think that we need to cater to this expo-type vibe,” she said.
Commissioner Mary McGann said that in a busier year, she would be hesitant to approve the expo, but she’s worried about local businesses in a slow tourism year. Possibly due to high gas prices, current tourism is below 2019 levels, she said.
“I’m going to vote for it because I want to support our local restaurants and our local people who are having a tough year,” McGann said.
Book also reported that the expo organizers had already invested a lot of money in the event.
“They have all their insurance paid for, they have swag already bought, their registration is full for vendors, they already have a pretty full registration for campers coming in,” Book said. She also noted that expo is aimed at a demographic with disposable income.
“These vans are expensive,” she said, referring to the typical “overland” vehicle. “It’s a different level of camping. These people are here to spend money and to buy things.”
County Attorney Christina Sloan pointed out that the commission had previously expressed a desire to see applications earlier on in the process, so their decision to approve or deny wouldn’t be affected by any consideration of how much time, effort and money organizers had already invested into completing the application and preparing for the event.
“You have said over and over again that you would like to see motorized and nonlocal new events come before you early on in the process,” Sloan said. “We’ve talked about how hard it is to deny an event at the end of the process. And yet… these things keep coming to you guys at the end of the process.”
Commissioners approved the Moab Overland Expo 4-2 for a probationary year; Commissioners Stock and Evan Clapper voted against it; Commissioner Kevin Walker was absent from the meeting.