Truthfully: Moab’s descent into a noisy hellscape of industrial tourism has not been an overnight phenomenon. It has been the proverbial frog boiling to death. Every year I have tuned my threshold just a little bit more toward accommodation, moving gradually from ‘at least it’s only a couple of weeks in April,’ to ‘at least we have a couple of quiet winter months to ourselves.’ But something about experiencing an increase in summer tourism with a marked uptick in the motorization of both our neighborhoods and our backcountry, all while trying to stay put in my home during a global pandemic, well, it broke me.
UTVs aren't just a nuisance, they are a signal of an emergent public health issue. Residents in neighborhoods with loud traffic noise are 25% more likely to suffer from depression than those in quiet neighborhoods. Study after study shows the direct and indirect negative impacts of noise pollution on health, linked to increased anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. From my bedroom on Locust Lane, I consistently clock UTV traffic heading to Sand Flats at around 65 decibels, or 70+ decibels when they mistakenly turn up my street (a frequent occurrence). This is in the same decibel range as my 5-month-old daughter crying full-throttle in the same room. When you consider that in the peak of summer, UTVs are parading up to Sand Flats and back as late as 1 a.m. and often start pre-dawn, it appears that Moabites are living with near 24/7 noise stress equivalent to that suffered by parents of colicky babies.
Already we are hearing back from our state legislators that this isn’t their problem, it’s a local issue. So we need to take control locally and take the steps needed to restore balance in this community. When I talk to friends in places other than Utah, they are shocked to learn that I live in a state that can make laws like this while simultaneously straitjacketing any local ability to opt out. This is not normal, and we need to stop acting as though it is.
This spring, when Moab was locked down, we got a delicious taste of how peaceful Moab can be, a reminder of years passed. If there is a way for this community and its governing forces to come together and make some serious change, I’m all in. Otherwise, I’m so tired of fighting. I fear that the same desire for a simple yet full quality of life that brought me to Moab will in the end also be the reason that I leave. Every day I promise my infant daughter that we’re going to fix it all. I promise her there is still a place in the world for quietude and thoughtfulness, and that sometime soon we will once again, as we did this spring, hear morning birdsong in the neighborhood trees.
The study mentioned is “Residential Road Traffic Noise and High Depressive Symptoms after Five Years of Follow-up: Results from the Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study,” published in 2016 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. - ed.