A local off-road-vehicle club is taking advantage of crowds of recreationists in town for the annual Easter Jeep Safari to gather signatures on petitions opposing proposed federal wilderness designation that would affect the Moab Rim trail.
More than 200 people had signed petitions as of Thursday. Signatures were being gathered at a booth set up by the local Red Rock 4-Wheelers Club in The Barn downtown, where off-road vehicle enthusiasts were registering for the 22nd annual safari.The petition calls for Congress to exclude the Egg Ranch Fin and Death Row portions of the Moab Rim trail from pending federal wilderness designation. Those sections are included in the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Study Area identified by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Both portions were also identified as restricted areas in the Grand Management Plan of the BLM Grand Resource Area, Moab District. Restricted areas are to be closed to vehicles.
"This is the last year for a large part of the trail unless we act now," a sign urging protest said.
"These sections of trail have been in use for years and should be left open for off-road vehicle use," the petition says.
Ber Knight, club spokesman, said the sections include about two miles of a 13-mile four-wheel-drive trail that leads to the top of the mountain rim stretching the length of the Moab Valley on the west.
"It's not much, but it's the most exciting part for jeeping," Knight said. "People come here, they've read about it, and that's the one they want to do."
Knight said local BLM officials are willing to consider eliminating restrictions on the two portions in the management plan. "But if it's going to be wilderness, it's ridiculous to go through those procedures if in a year or two, it's going to be closed," he said.
Signers of the petitions included residents of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, California and South Carolina.
One of the petitioners, Joe Trujillo of Salt Lake City, drove his family and two friends in their 50s on the Moab Rim trail Thursday.
Trujillo's daughter Tonni, 17, said if the trail is closed to vehicles, "there'd be a lot of things we wouldn't have seen - petroglyphs, Indian ruins."
"The only people that would see it is the young, energetic and those on mountain bikes," her father said. "The older people would never see it."
More than 500 vehicles from across the country were registered by Thursday evening to participate in guided back-country tours this weekend along the Moab Rim and 20 other trails around Moab and Green River.
Registration continues through Saturday, and the number of participants is again expected to break previous records. Last year, 700 vehicles were registered and the number of participants was estimated to be at least double the registration figure.