As most people in the Moab area know, Castle Valley is a small community about 20 miles up the river from Moab. But people may not be aware that Castle Valley has a long history of protecting public and private lands from inappropriate development. Nearly 20 years ago, a group of Castle Valley residents worked with the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), the Bureau of Land Management, and the land conservation organization Utah Open Lands to save the iconic Castle Tower region from a proposed housing development.
Recently, SITLA signed a long-term lease with the Montana-based Under Canvas corporation for a 480-acre site that sits just above Castle Valley. This “SITLA square” parcel is surrounded by Forest Service Land on three sides and BLM land on the other. The land is mostly steep and rugged and is home to bear and the elk and mule deer herds that migrate through the area from the mountains and down into Castle Valley. The land also sits in the middle of the watershed that feeds the aquifer relied on by residents of Castleton, Castle Valley Academy (previously Daystar), and the Canyonlands Field Institute.
At this point, details about the proposed development have not been released. But their latest development, south of Moab near Looking Glass Arch, has about 50 individually heated and cooled housing units—euphemistically called “tents”—each with toilets and showers, plus a 4000 square foot multi-use building. Basically, each unit is a detached hotel room with canvas walls. Plus, the Under Canvas development near Zion includes a helicopter pad.
Ironically, Forest Service biologists recently worked hard to increase wildlife habitat and reduce fire danger in the area. This proposed Under Canvas development would have a negative impact on both wildlife and fire safety, decreasing the effectiveness of this work.
Since 2019 when Grand County instituted regulations concerning overnight accommodations, only three housing projects have been approved outside of Moab and Spanish Valley. These projects were required to go through the county land use process and were each allowed 15 units.
In a perfect world, this piece of land would be left alone for the benefit of the wildlife that lives there, for the health of the forest and watershed and for the well-being of the nearby communities, not for the gain of a large corporation and a state agency. It is time to stop sacrificing our priceless environment in the pursuit of profits.