The vast majority of the roughly two million tourists who visit Moab and its surrounding area each year don’t leave the trails. They hike, bike or drive. But enough of them do hit the dirt to warrant expanding education efforts. That’s the informal conclusion members of the Grand County Council arrived at following an in-depth discussion Tuesday evening, Sept. 4.
“We have lots of issues and need assistance,” said now retired former Parks Superintendent Walt Dabney in comments made to the council. “Most visitors are thrilled to be here and don’t want to destroy anything. It’s just a small percentage.”
And most of those folks don’t act with malice. Dabney said it’s a lack of understanding. With 43 years as a parks employee, including 20 years in law enforcement, Dabney said trying to catch people “is not a successful approach. People can be educated.”
Dabney said he does a lot of mountain biking and has never seen anybody deliberately go off the trail, in large part due to signage, but the signage has to be effective.
He said the vault toilets in place throughout the park system have had signs that tell people not to throw trash in them, but they didn’t work. When the admonition included an explanation that the trash is “extremely difficult” to remove, people quit using the toilets as trash cans. Similar signs and even using people to interact with tourists at some of the more high value archaeological sites could go a long way in conserving them.
Dabney noted that while a small minority of tourists don’t follow the rules, the estimated five percent of two million is still 100,000. “We want to reach out to federal agencies for their expertise in educating visitors,” said Liz Thomas, who also addressed the county.
The comment brought Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Elaine Gizler to the podium to tout the council’s ongoing educational videos that can be found online at discovermoab.com. Dabney praised the Travel Council’s efforts, but said educational materials also need to be on the trails.
Council Member Jaylyn Hawks indicated the Travel Council might be a victim of its own success. She said the educational videos are visually “stunning. For me, it was a promotional video because it was so stunning.”
Public commenter Bob Phillips said he supports the expanded education efforts and suggested the Travel Council should reduce its promotion efforts because the county can’t sustain “industrial tourism.” Other residents also voiced support for expanded efforts.