Moab’s Off-Road Controversy: Environmental Victory or Tourism Tragedy?

October 27, 2023
2 mins read
2012 Tom Kelly
A Jeep Wrangler climbs a waterfall on the Gold Bar Rim trail during Moab Easter Jeep Safari.

The picturesque landscapes of Moab, Utah, have long been a magnet for off-roaders, environmentalists, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). However, the recent unveiling of the Travel Management Plan (TMP) for the Labyrinth and Gemini Bridges areas by the BLM has stirred a whirlwind of reactions.

For years, the access to off-road trails in and around Moab has been a hotbed of contention. The crux of the matter lies in the balance between preserving the environment and facilitating recreational activities. The recent decision by the BLM to close over 300 miles of trail access for “off-highway vehicles” (OHV) has been perceived by many as a significant win for environmentalist groups, especially in light of a lawsuit by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) over alleged “mishandling of federal lands public access.”

The roads affected by these closures are primarily in Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges, two iconic landmarks in the western part of Moab. The decision, which takes effect this weekend, has been met with mixed reactions. While some laud the move as a necessary step to protect the fragile ecosystems, others view it as an impediment to the thriving tourism industry in the region.

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In 2017, a settlement with the SUWA led to the introduction of more stringent protections for wildlife habitats, sensitive ecosystems, and cultural resources. This move, while celebrated by environmentalists, has been a cause for concern among off-roaders. They argue that such restrictions could lead to significant economic losses for businesses that depend on tourism in Moab. The closures are not just limited to off-roading trails but also encompass numerous campsites, mountain bike trails, and roads leading to popular hiking trailheads.

The Easter Jeep Safari, a notable event in the off-roading calendar, is also affected by these closures. Trails like Hey Joe Canyon and Day Canyon Point are now off-limits. While the BLM assures that over 90% of trails for Easter Jeep activities will remain accessible, there’s an underlying fear among off-roaders that this is just the beginning of a series of closures.

The Blue Ribbon Coalition, an advocacy group for open trails, has expressed its concerns, stating that the recent decisions have disrupted the balance of recreational uses in the Labyrinth Rims and Gemini Bridges area. On the other hand, the SUWA believes that the closures are a step in the right direction, especially considering the damage to sensitive ecosystems around Green River due to increased off-roading activities.

The BLM’s stance is clear: the new plan aims to provide clarity for users, minimize conflicts, protect natural and cultural resources, and address law enforcement issues. However, the broader question remains: Is there a middle ground that satisfies both conservationists and off-roaders?

In the grand scheme of things, the closure of 317 miles of OHV routes in Moab is a significant decision that has far-reaching implications. While the BLM’s intentions might be rooted in conservation, the economic and recreational impacts cannot be ignored.

The ongoing debate surrounding the Labyrinth and Gemini Bridges TMP underscores the complexities of managing natural resources. As the narrative unfolds, it’s imperative for all stakeholders to come together, engage in constructive dialogue, and work towards a sustainable future for Moab.

Tejal Somvanshi

Meet Tejal Somvanshi, a soulful wanderer and a staunch wellness advocate, who elegantly navigates through the enchanting domains of Fashion and Beauty with a natural panache. Her journey, vividly painted with hues from a vibrant past in the media production world, empowers her to carve out stories that slice through the cacophony, where brands morph into characters and marketing gimmicks evolve into intriguing plot twists. To Tejal, travel is not merely an activity; it unfolds as a chapter brimming with adventures and serendipitous tales, while health is not just a regimen but a steadfast companion in her everyday epic. In the realms of fashion and beauty, she discovers her muse, weaving a narrative where each style narrates a story, and every beauty trend sparks a dialogue. Tejal seamlessly melds the spontaneous spirit of the media industry with the eloquent prose of a storyteller, crafting tales as vibrant and dynamic as the industry she thrives in.

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