Few accidents during Jeep Safari, but some complain of environmental damage
by Jeff Richards
contributing writer
Apr 12, 2012 | 3555 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Off-road enthusiasts climb the slickrock along Hell’s Revenge Trail (above) and test their mettle in an obstacle known as Mickey’s Hot Tub during the 2012 Easter Jeep Safari.                                                      Photos by Zane Taylor
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  Thousands of visitors packed the Moab area last week during the 46th annual Easter Jeep Safari, enjoying outdoor trails in pleasant weather throughout the week. Event organizers reported record-sized crowds.

  Officials from the Red Rock 4-Wheelers club, the local off-road organization that organizes the Jeep Safari, reported 1,600 vehicles registered for the eight-day event, with each of the more than 30 trail runs being essentially full.

  For ATV users and those driving rock crawler-type vehicles, separate events took place at Area BFE, which is located southeast of Moab in San Juan County near Pole Canyon. The Area BFE events also attracted hundreds of vehicles each day, according to the property’s co-owner, Chris Brunner, who helped organize the week’s activities, which included a rock crawling event, obstacle climbing, and short-track races.

  Despite the large influx of visitors, local law enforcement officials characterized the overall week as being calm and relatively uneventful.

   “It was a pretty quiet Jeep Safari, especially from our perspective,” said Grand County Sheriff’s Lt. Kim Neal.

But several property owners and environmental groups reported damage to landscape and vegetation caused by some drivers traveling off designated trails and by rock crawler events at Area BFE.

  Neal said that the Grand County Sheriff’s Office responded to a total of 317 incidents during Jeep Safari week. A total of 37 people were arrested, including eight suspected DUI offenders. Neal said there were nine other alcohol-related offenses, three domestic violence calls, two drug arrests, and 16 warrant arrests.

  There were also a few off-road vehicle accidents reported, the most serious of which was an April 2 rollover on the Kane Springs trail that injured two people from California.

  That same day, a man received minor injuries on a different Jeep Safari trail.

  For some, at least, more work remains after the dust settles and the visitors leave.

  Sara Melnicoff of Solutions, whose volunteers focus on recycling and other environmental preservation efforts, said that more cleanup work remains to be done, particularly in the area known as Potato Salad Hill, located near town between the power dam and Sand Flats. The location is not an official Jeep Safari site, but is often filled with off-road drivers attempting to climb the slickrock hill, along with hundreds of onlookers.

  “We’ve been working every morning on naturalizing and re-rocking routes on the Potato Salad Hill side,” Melnicoff said. She described some of the damage to the area as “tragic” and “horrific.”

  “We need about another week to get things looking better,” she said. “We dealt with almost all of the trash and recycling but are still finding cigarette butts everywhere. I just got a few cans and bottles out of the water yesterday morning, and I have to do some work on the power dam side. There are areas that have been so seriously damaged that they won’t just come back.”

  Melnicoff said she was especially disheartened to see heavy damage to a tree located near Potato Salad Hill, but was later glad to learn that the offenders had been caught by law enforcement.

  Grand County Sheriff Steve White said he could not comment on the specifics of the case yet, due to the ongoing nature of the investigation. But he did say that criminal charges stemming from that incident could be forthcoming.

  Another person who expressed dismay at the aftermath was Kiley Miller, who owns property in the Pole Canyon area. Miller posted several dozen photos to her Facebook page documenting such things as vegetation that had been run over, fire pits filled with ashes and burned trash.

  Unlike the Jeep Safari, which utilizes mostly public roads administered by the BLM, the Area BFE events took place on a 320-acre parcel of privately owned property.

  Organizers of both events defended their ongoing efforts to keep and maintain the trails in proper condition and to remind participants to avoid damaging the environment.

  Adams said the Red Rock 4-Wheelers club paid nearly $40,000 in trail use fees to the BLM for this year’s event. In addition, Adams said, Jeep Safari participants are often admonished to stay on existing roads and trails and to pick up any trash they see along the way.

  Brunner said similar policies are also in place at Area BFE.

“Area BFE does not approve of going off trail and that’s why we have an established trail system as well as freestyle areas for playing on obstacles. Our trail system exists because several organizations put in countless hours to make and maintain the trails,” he said. “We also feel strongly about educating the OHV community about staying within trails, not driving over the plants, and parking or camping only where it’s proper. Of course we don’t want people destroying the property. If we didn’t do a good job of cleaning up the area, we wouldn’t be able to hold this event [as we do] each year.”

Brunner said he and the other property owners are committed to keeping the area open for all types of recreational users, year round.

“We invite hikers, bikers, campers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, photographers, artists, ATVs, UTVs, any 4x4, and anyone who just wants to hang out,” he said.

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