The unique sandstone domes and fins at the Sand Flats Recreation Area have been drawing more and more visitors over the years. Sand Flats Director Andrea Brand told the Grand County Commission that visitation has increased by 99% over the past 12 years; it’s increased by 13% in the last five. About 150,000 vehicles were counted going through the entrance booth last year; 35,000 people rode the Fins N’ Things trail, 40,000 rode Slickrock, and 45,000 drove or rode Hell’s Revenge.

With increasing traffic, land managers have been discussing paving more of the Sand Flats Road, which turns to dirt about a mile up from the entrance station. It’s an expensive project, and Sand Flats and the Grand County Roads Department hope to receive a federal Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant to pay for it; the engineering firm Jones and DeMille will analyze the project and produce a cost estimate. At the Feb. 21 commission meeting, Brand and Road Department Supervisor Bill Jackson asked the commission to approve a letter in support of the grant application.

The proposed plan would repave the first mile of road past the entrance station, and also pave the next six miles beyond, with 12-foot wide lanes, one to three-foot shoulders and a five-foot paved bike path on either side. That would bring pavement through Dave’s Crack, a narrow sandstone notch with poor visibility. Parts of the road would also be realigned to improve sight distance. Brand and Jackson hope that pavement will address traffic safety and reduce the amount of dust getting into the air.

Brand and Jackson were surprised, however, to hear that there is pushback from some community members. Commission Chair Jaques Hadler said he’s heard opposition from the biking community.

“I personally have heard from a lot of people about this in the last week who honestly don’t like the idea of paving Sand Flats Road,” Hadler said. “One of the biggest things that’s come up … is they feel like there hasn’t been enough public discussion about it.”

Jackson pointed out that this is the third year a grant application to fund the project has been brought to the commission in a public meeting; paving Sand Flats Road is also on the transportation master plan, for which there was a community open house.

Commissioner Mike McCurdy asked for the reasoning behind the opposition.

“Barring the arguments against process, the benefits that I’m hearing right now—and I heard as a citizen last year—the benefits heavy outweigh the aesthetics of the road … there’s already a road there, we’re just paving it, McCurdy said. “This is a no-brainer.”

“The biggest thing I’ve heard is that it would change the character of that upper Sand Flats area,” Hadler explained.

Commissioner Mary McGann agreed with Jackson that there had been enough public process on the idea for the commission to approve the grant application.

“I feel bad that people don’t know about it, and we’re caught off guard—but I also think it would be foolish for us to not move forward and try to get this money,” she said. She acknowledged, however, that the county seems to have difficulty effectively communicating with the public, citing other instances in which plans discussed at multiple public meetings took stakeholders by surprise.

Commissioner Kevin Walker argued that the fact that people who care about the road were surprised by the plan to pave it demonstrates that the public process was lacking.

“I do want to make it clear that the people who screwed up are basically me … and the other commissioners,” Walker said. “It’s our responsibility to recognize when some project has a lot of potential community interest and make sure that we have the open houses, workshops and things like that, that are sufficient.”

Commissioners discussed how much flexibility there might be to tweak the design of the project after the grant application was submitted. Jackson said there would be some wiggle room, but that the length of road to be paved would likely have to remain the same once included in the application.

Commissioners approved a letter supporting the grant application; the motion passed 5-2 with Walker and Hadler opposed.

“There’s a lot of people who care deeply about this road, so I feel uncomfortable locking ourselves in to decisions … if it means waiting an additional year to apply for the grant, maybe that’s the price we pay,” Walker said.