Three weeks ago, the company Under Canvas acquired a 30-year leasing right to a parcel of land adjacent to Looking Glass Rock, home to a famous climbing route beloved by outdoor enthusiasts.
Under Canvas approached the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration about the 640-acre parcel twenty-five miles south of Moab, recognizing the insanely lucrative opportunity to develop accommodations near Looking Glass Arch. They are currently negotiating a lease agreement within a block of 200 acres.
Regardless of the details, there are certain lands that have greater value being left as they are for the children's future. Looking Glass Rock is one of them. This is the most pressing issue here that demands our attention. The bottom line: with a glamping resort near this unique geographical land formation, the quality of this exceptional space will collapse.
Don’t be fooled, this is no “modest campground” created by “a local” as SITLA told a questioning community member last month when the bid was announced in public notices in the Times-Independent and the Deseret News.
This will be a sprawling hotel-like establishment with low upfront costs and a high-corporate pay out, furnished with West Elm furniture and fine linens, enabled by the extremely lucrative glamping trend to exploit this hidden gem of Looking Glass Arch and landscape that surrounds it. The development plan I’ve seen includes 50 wood-stove heated tents, a “dipping pond,” 60 acres of disturbed land and 25 acres of graded land.
My horror of the proposed development comes from experience: I have worked at catered events including a recent wedding at Moab Under Canvas with 150 guests attempting to have a Miami-style upscale wedding in the middle of the desert. The results were predictable: guests trampling cryptobiotic soil in designer gowns, blasting music into the wee hours of the morning, flashing bright lights and video screens into the night sky, and littering everywhere.
This is the clientele Under Canvas is marketing to. After all, with tents going for upwards of $450 a night in peak season, their business model is to charge the prices of a fancy hotel while cashing out on the “glamping” trend—all without having to go through the cost and work of building a permanent structure.
There are many facets to this subject, but the crux is understanding SITLA. The state agency has a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits off ITS state-held land, allocating the interest made each year on the trust to help fund state educational programs. It seems that SITLA has lost sight of its stewardship mission of "Administering trust lands prudently...for Utah’s schoolchildren..."
The deal is essentially done, though with pressure Under Canvas could back out of the lease and begin the process again in another location. The lease was signed three weeks ago and went basically unnoticed. This is a lesson to us all: pay attention to the leases SITLA posts in the local newspapers, not only here in Moab, but in San Juan county.
What we are facing with the development of Looking Glass Rock is only just the beginning. SITLA should make investment decisions with the local communities in mind, invest in a long-term strategy and consolidate commercial growth without piercing the membrane of already developed areas and introducing sprawl.
Under Canvas’s current location uses land well—it’s a beautiful experience for its clientele, while not infringing on one of our cherished public spaces for commercial gain. There is no reason SITLA and Under Canvas cannot work together to develop this resort in a more neutral space, closer to town, offering respect to the local and international populace who routinely enjoy its uniqueness.
Shame on SITLA for misleading a local resident who noticed that lease in the paper. Shame on Under Canvas for developing a plan to exploit one of our region’s favorite quiet places to massively profit off exclusive services to wealthy travelers. Shame on Under Canvas and SITLA both for not engaging the community before making plans to expand so dramatically and impactfully — that burden was on them.
Looking Glass Rock is in danger, and the invaluable character and landscape of this beloved space could disappear. Would we stand for a hotel at the base of Delicate Arch, or Corona Arch? This spot might not be as well known, but that makes it all the more valuable and essential to protect. Make your voice heard, all contracts are negotiable. You can sign our petition at: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lookingglass.
Under Canvas’ project is on the agenda for the San Juan County Planning and Zoning meeting this Thursday, June 10 at 7 p.m. The public is invited, check www.utah.gov for meeting details. There are still details that are being worked out and now that the public is aware, we can be heard in that process.
Dailey Haren grew up in Moab, where she continues to live and work in the service industry.