This year could signal the end of free and unrestricted camping in several popular recreational areas if the BLM follows through on a management action plan developed by a local task force.
Eliminating human waste and sewage problems at undeveloped campsites is a major goal of the Grand County Blue Ribbon Committee, which submitted final recommendations in the five-page report to Grand County commissioners this month.The report identifies U-128, the Sand Flats area east of Moab near the Slick Rock Bike Trail, and the Kane Creek tributary downriver from Moab as top priorities for "minimal development" that would restrict free-for-all camping.
The committee also recommended planning now - in anticipation of resource degradation and health and safety problems - for campsite development in the Gold Bar Canyon area along U-279 (the Potash road), lower Onion Creek near Fisher Towers, and an area east of the switchbacks on U-313 - the Dead Horse Point road.
Semi-developed public campgrounds, constructed and managed by private operators under a lease arrangement, are proposed at Big Bend along U-128, at Hittle Bottom near Fisher Towers, and in the Sand Flats area.
The committee recommends prohibiting vehicle camping at Moon Flower and Short canyons, designating gravel pits as "overflow" areas for recreational vehicles during peak season, and closing the following areas along U-128 to all camping: The tamarisk-dense Goose Island area because of the fire hazard; the mouth of Negro Bill Canyon because of vegetation destruction and use conflicts with hikers; Sandy Beach, the Hittle Bottom boat ramp and BLM "daily" take-out boat ramp and beach because of conflicts with rafting activities and other day uses; the beach and central picnic area at Big Bend.
The nine-step action plan was presented Jan. 22 to commissioners, who praised the effort before passing the recommendations on to the Planning Commission.
"I've been critical of the Blue Ribbon Committee, but I'm impressed with these," Commission Chairman David Knutson told David Bierschied, committee chairman.
The report was developed by a committee of local, state and federal officials formed cooperatively by the county and BLM 18 months ago to develop strategies to cope with increased recreational use of public lands around Moab.
"Our main concern was, the BLM was going to restrict use. The objective of the committee was to utilize the land as much as it has (been utilized) historically, but not with as much impact," Bierschied said.
The recommendations will go from the county to the BLM for site-specific analysis and implementation. Bierschied said the BLM received approximately $200,000 in a one-time appropriation this year for the program, which officials hope will become self-supporting.
One measure the committee prescribed is installation of "donation" boxes to collect $3 per night at camping areas with facilities. Enforced fees will be considered if donations do not cover maintenance.
The initial "minimal development" also includes group and tent sites with toilets, fire grills, picnic tables, bulletin boards, site-identification and reservation posts, and multilingual informational brochures and signs.
Where toilets, Dumpsters and fire rings are not provided, campers would be required to carry out trash, solid human waste and burnings. Fire pans would be required in high-use areas.