Jeep Safari file photo

Vancouver, Washington, resident John Jordan ascends Potato Salad Hill, a popular four-wheel drive test area, in his Bronco during a previous Easter Jeep Safari. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Confused yet? After being canceled, then being “in a fluid situation,” then canceled again: the 2021 Easter Jeep Safari is back on pending approval from the Grand County Commission, according to organizers.

Red Rock 4-Wheelers, the organization that puts on the annual Jeep festival, announced that the group had met with Grand County officials to discuss how the event could potentially address COVID-19 restrictions on special events, which cap the number of event participants. The vendor expo for the event will remain canceled, according to a statement on the group’s website.

County Commission Administrator Chris Baird had previously met with Safari organizers on Feb. 3 and reported presenting two options: capping the event at 250 participants or submitting a request that the commission amend the ordinance in a way that would allow the event to host more people.

However, the Red Rock 4-Wheelers website announced later that day that the 2021 Safari would be canceled “because of the uncertainty of the risk level at Safari time.” The 2021 Easter Jeep Safari is scheduled for March 27 through April 4.

The announcement prompted a flurry of questions and expressions of irritation from event attendees on social media. Some commenters incorrectly linked the possible cancelation to the county’s recent moratorium on ATV-based events. However, county officials have clarified that they did not deny the event a permit and stressed that Jeeps do not fall under the ATV moratorium.

The Red Rock 4-Wheelers’ cancellation statement also stated that the county offered “no wiggle room to the limits.” Baird and County Attorney Christina Sloan emphasized that they did present options for flexibility; Sloan suggested a proposal to the commission to change the participant limit to apply to vehicles, rather than individuals, for 4x4 events.

Sloan reported that organizers cited other factors, such as low interest from vendors for the vendor expo part of the Safari, that had contributed to their decision to cancel. It’s currently unknown why event organizers had a change of heart. It’s also unclear what exactly the proposed amendments to the special events ordinance will be.

The proposed changes to the county’s special event restrictions will need to be approved by the Grand County Commission, which will meet next on Feb. 16.

“The Grand County Commission administrator has requested that EJS attendees, RR4W members, and the 4-wheeling community send letters to the county commission in support of the amendment to the ordinance,” the Red Rock 4-Wheelers statement urges.

Previously, Grand County staff had publicly expressed concern that large special events were getting beyond the scope of their ability to enforce health mandates. With Moab’s busy spring season approaching, commissioners voted to create COVID-19 guidelines for approving special event permits. (See “Large public events cause COVID-19 concerns: Commission considers restrictions” in the Nov. 12 edition.)

Grand County, along with 26 of Utah’s 29 counties, is currently in the “High Transmission” risk level for COVID-19, according to the state’s Transmission Index, which is determined using three metrics tracking the positivity rates of COVID-19 tests, case rates, and statewide hospital ICU capacities. Social distancing, limiting group gatherings and wearing masks in public are still promoted by health officials as the best means to curb the spread of the virus.

Under the new guidelines, when the county is in the High-risk level under the state’s Transmission Index, indoor events must be canceled and outdoor events are capped at 250 participants. If the county drops down to the Moderate risk level, indoor events are capped at 500 people and outdoor events may include as many as 1,000 participants.

Other spring events have obtained permits from the City of Moab, which is adhering to the guidelines required by the county. The Moab Half Marathon, scheduled for March 20, is open for registration. The Skinny Tire Festival, a road biking event scheduled for March 13 through 16, has obtained a permit but is holding off on registration until mid-February, at which time organizers will consider the current risk level and assess whether it is safe to go forward. These events must adhere to the participant caps that apply at the date of the event.

[This is a developing story. For updates, go to www.moabsunnews.com or check out our Facebook page]