Rally on the Rocks has been bringing side-by-side UTVs to Moab for annual five-day gatherings that include trail rides and vendor expos for a decade, along with associated revenues estimated to be in the millions. However, some residents have found the event increasingly unbearable; in recent years, public opposition to the rally has reached a new level of intensity.

“We have never gotten as many comments as we got after 2018 about this event,” said Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan at the Oct. 6 County Commission meeting, calling the outcry “massive, historical opposition.”

Previous discussions

Last year, that opposition prompted the then-council to revisit the terms of the event’s permit. In order to be approved for a 2020 permit, Rally on the Rocks organizers agreed to a long list of stipulations, including a cap on the number of participants, a curfew to keep UTVs off residential streets at night and a requirement that all participants have standard mufflers.

The 2020 Rally on the Rocks was scheduled for May, but when the coronavirus necessitated shutdowns and restrictions, the organizers rescheduled for September. After further negotiations between the organizers and the Grand County Events Committee stalled, the 2020 event was canceled altogether.

Next year’s event is tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2021, but now organizers are returning to the county requesting that the permit requirements be loosened.

At the Sept. 15 Grand County Commission meeting, organizer Sean Reddish brought up three specific stipulations the event disputes: the curfew limiting when participating OHVs may be on city streets; the requirement that the exhaust parts on participating machines be OEM (“original equipment manufacturer,” or stock) or similar; and a demand that the event donate a sum to local nonprofit organizations.

Reddish said that the curfew requirement “felt like a trap,” since he believes event staff would not be authorized to enforce the curfew under state law. He also mentioned paraplegic event participants who use their UTVs as primary vehicles and would need to use them for regular transportation after curfew hours. Regarding OEM mufflers and exhausts, Reddish called that stipulation “an arbitrary limitation that doesn’t fix the systemic problem that you’re looking to fix.”

Reddish said he understands local concerns regarding noise, and that event organizers urge participants to behave courteously. All participants must watch a short video on OHV use in Moab; the video is available on the Moab Area Travel Council’s website and primarily emphasizes the unique beauty of Moab as well as safety and trail etiquette. It also mentions slowing down while driving in town.

The requirement that the event donate to local organizations “just doesn’t sit well with me as a human being,” Reddish said at the meeting. “We already do a good job, and to just add it on like an arbitrary demand just seems from left field.”

In the past, Rally on the Rocks has donated tens of thousands of dollars to organizations like Grand County Search and Rescue and the BEACON Afterschool program.

Reddish expressed a sense of persecution and unfairness. Other local events, Reddish said, are not burdened with such extensive conditions. He objected that the county “can’t put a thumb on us that’s not on other events.”

Commissioner Curtis Wells agreed that the donation requirement was bad policy.

“I absolutely think that the spirit of a donation is being undermined by that stipulation,” he said.

However, other county officials characterized the stipulations differently. McGann recalled that in previous discussions, when event organizers made a point of how much they had donated to the community, she told them “the public doesn’t know that, so we should do something so that it is more apparent.” The donation stipulation was meant to highlight the Rally’s local contributions.

County officials used firm language with Reddish, commenting that the event organizers were lucky the county was considering granting another permit.

“We could have canceled it; we said we want to work with you,” Sloan said. “Let’s try to figure out some ways for you to understand us and for the community to understand you.”

Commission Chair Mary McGann noted that even just that night’s discussion of the Rally had generated over 40 letters of opposition to the event.

“We were trying to give you as much information, as much resources and tools to keep your event going amidst all this massive opposition,” said Sloan.

Commissioner Evan Clapper agreed, saying he doesn’t support the event and that if it is to go forward, it will be under strict terms and scrutiny.

“It’s the nature of the beast that when you're on thin ice, it has to go across a lot of desks,” Clapper said of the Rally permit.

Economic impact

Aside from disputing the fairness of the permit terms, Reddish has emphasized the significant economic benefit that Rally on the Rocks brings to Grand County.

“The rally brings in a substantial amount of revenue to the town that is all new money,” Reddish told the Moab Sun News, differentiating money brought from out-of-town Rally participants from money locals might spend on an event in town. Reddish estimates the event brings about $2 million of sales tax to the county each year. He also said he has been approached by other towns eager to host the Rally if an arrangement can’t be reached with Grand County officials.

Steve Swift, director of the Old Spanish Trail Arena, hopes that doesn’t happen. Swift has done his own calculations to estimate revenues brought to the county by the Rally on the Rocks event, reaching a figure of almost $4.5 million in 2018. That number takes into account rental and accommodation fees at the venue itself, as well as estimates for hotel rooms, fuel, meals, and retail spending by about 3,000 out-of-town event participants.

“To give [Rally on the Rocks] trouble is stopping a heap of revenue from coming,” Swift said.

However, even the economic gains are not enough to convince many community members that the event is worth hosting.

“There’s a lot of people in this town that are feeling overrun, and they would rather lose the money than to have their lives so dramatically impacted,” McGann said at the Grand County Commission meeting.