After reading the recent article “What we mean when we say ‘camping,’” [Moab Sun News Jan. 28, 2020 edition. -ed.] I felt moved to write a response. It is time for Moab to start getting more creative in order to provide housing options for seasonal (and long-term) employees.
Like so many others, I spent several years living out of my minivan as I tried to make it work in Moab. I worked seasonally, at low-wage jobs that helped me make it for a few months but then forced me to move to Colorado to get through the winter. I used to spend my time in Moab out at Willow Springs, but stopped camping out there as I saw it get more and more trashed every day. Human waste, toilet paper and beer bottles now litter the landscape. I wonder why more bathroom facilities can’t be installed, given the frequency of visitation.
I now live in a mobile home in town and feel grateful to have been able to find a year-round spot to rest my head. I know many people who are living out of their vehicles and see that the cycle continues as the gap between the rich and the poor grows ever greater.
I am convinced that we can come up with more innovative solutions instead of putting more restrictions on camping. I see hordes of camper vans parked overnight at Swanny Park once the season hits, with light peeking out from the windows as I bike home from work at night. At this point, it’s not even stealth camping. It’s just that we have no solutions and not enough enforcement to actually do anything.
When I worked at a ski resort in Colorado, they turned a blind eye to the employees who would park their RVs and vans in the farthest lot and live there throughout the winter. These employees would join the rec center in order to use the shower facilities and because the resort was always understaffed they didn’t enforce the “no camping” rule. If they had, they would have lost many vital staff.
I see Moab losing good workers and members of the community because they can’t find a place to live, or they get tired of being hassled for living in their vehicles. Could we designate a space for people to park their cars where they could use shower/restroom facilities for a fee? Set some rules in place about human waste/fires/quiet hours and let these vital workers sleep in peace? Who wants to open up another hostel in town? We have got to do something!
I read a very interesting article from Outside Online about an arrangement where camp staff members were able to park and live outside of a rec center in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They didn’t have to pay exorbitant fees: in fact, the rec center paid for their spot, allowing them to work and save in a high cost of living area. Many folks already camp at Swanny Park and do precisely this...however the trash generated and the extended camping isn’t really a viable long term option for that little park. What option could we come up with that allows all to enjoy the park and rec center but keep things a little more orderly?
We are all trying to make it work. COVID-19 has shattered many lives, and forced even more people to live out of their cars because of prohibitive rent costs. However, the rich keep flocking to our small town, shelling out their money on fancy toys and tours. The raft guides, servers and housekeepers continue to barely scrape by, holding up the backbone of this town. I often fantasize about a Moab-wide strike, where those who keep the tourists happy all take a day off. The town would crumble. Yet in lieu of supporting these workers, the county clarifies that “camping on private property outside of established campgrounds in Grand County is illegal.”
It isn’t even always about the money, it is about the supply. I have so many friends who could afford to pay the ridiculous rents here but simply could not find a room or a house. Yet more hotels go in. What if we made hotels set aside a certain number of rooms that could be subsidized by employers to give their seasonal workers a place to sleep? Or made the hotels subsidize them—they are certainly making enough money! [A requirement similar to suggestion has been implemented by the city of Moab. -ed.]
I agree that something needs to be done about all of the camping throughout city limits. However, I don’t think we need to criminalize it. My biggest concern is the waste generated and how it can be disposed of properly. I think that if we work to find more solutions, such as designated spaces for car campers to sleep long term, we can reduce the trashing of common spaces and avoid the destruction of beautiful areas such as Willow Springs.
I invite the Grand County Commission and citizens of Moab to contemplate solutions to this issue. After all, spring is coming and before we know it we are all going to be fighting for parking spaces, let alone camping spaces.
Quincy Masur has lived in Moab since 2013. She loves riding her bike, hiking, and exploring throughout the red rock wonderland.