Responding to the changing interests of Moab’s tourists, the owners of the proposed “HandleBar Ranch” – formerly the Bar-M Chuckwagon – are planning to transition the 45-acre parcel from its western themed, “mom-and-pop” roots into a high quality, mountain bike-focused gathering space.
Located on state trust land five miles south of Moab, the new owners have high hopes the Grand County Council approves a rezone request from Range Grazing to Resort Special – so they can start building their vision of a mountain biking haven.
“When we looked at it, connected with Bar-M trails, what a better venue to have what we call the HandleBar Ranch,” said John Hall, the new owner of the property.
Currently under lease with the School of Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), the ultimate discretion for use of the 45-acre parcel rests with the state organization. However, SITLA representatives say they still move through local land use requirements, consulting with municipalities to the “greatest extent possible.”
“SITLA tries to work with local communities on each project as much as possible because most communities have the same vision as SITLA and see its properties as a great resource for economic development,” said resource specialist Bryan Torgerson.
According to Torgerson, SITLA feels that the rezone and future plan for the 45-acre parcel will improve the area significantly.
“The new HandleBar Ranch operators appear to be very sensitive and thoughtful,” Torgerson said. “SITLA believes that the HandleBar Ranch will be a great compliment to the area and will provide excellent services to those already taking place there now.”
Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine affirmed Torgerson’s sentiment during a county council meeting Aug. 15. A rezone of the area – called the “North Moab Area Recreation Corridor” in county documents – is currently supported by the county’s future land use plan map.
“That section of the general plan identifies the area as being appropriate for tourism development and resort commercial development,” Levine said. “So, this fits perfectly within what is targeted for that area.”
Levine said the Resort Special zone would also complement existing parcels in the area, including developments like the Moab Under Canvas lodging area, the Moab Giants Dinosaur Park and the Archview Campground.
Valerie Brown – who owned the Bar-M Chuckwagon with her husband Alan for decades – completely agrees.
“It’s totally in line with what the county has wanted for the last twenty years,” Brown said.
The Browns held the lease on the SITLA lands for almost twenty years, operating their western dinner theater on a conditional use permit. Since the development of the adjacent mountain bike trails came with little revenue for the Bar-M Chuckwagon, however, Brown said they decided to shutter the establishment in 2016, simply tired of “eating dust.”
“People seemed to lose interest in the cowboy dinner show and we were losing money like crazy,” Brown said. “We decided that people just wanted to mountain bike out there.”
That’s when the Brown’s old college friend Hall stepped in. With a career’s worth of experience developing recreation venues, Brown said that Hall truly has a vision for the property.
“[Hall] has the resources, the creativity, the imagination, and the team to make it all happen [and] I’m totally thrilled,” Brown said. “I think it’s going to enhance Moab as far as mountain biking goes … It will be beautiful, high quality and a great asset.”
Hall told the county council that he expects the HandleBar Ranch to complement the changing tastes in tourism for that area.
“I’ve been coming out [to Moab] because Valerie and Alan are dear friends that operated the Bar-M Chuckwagon. When I realized they were ready for a change, I thought what a great opportunity to see what we might be able to do here in Moab,” Hall said. “Since I’ve been coming out twenty years, and watched the changes and loved the area, it seemed the right time to do something.”
According Hall, the HandleBar Ranch would expand the existing use of the property to offer approximately 60 to 70 units of overnight lodging, some employee housing units, and resort amenities like a pool and bike-focused areas including work stations and bike washes.
“We don’t want anything to be on top of each other, we’re clustering some of it so it minimizes the impact on the total area,” Hall said. “ … It’s not huge, it’s more about having a personality. We wanted to have a property that looks nice, blends in with the environment, and be a place where folks who are staying there are very comfortable.”
Hall said that the ultimate goal of HandleBar ranch will be to support existing bike and guiding businesses by providing amenities and gathering spaces near the Moab Brand trails.
“It supports everything that’s already going on there,” Hall told the county council. “ … I think we can also bring other quality industry specific events to the area in a very positive way to take advantage of the recreation area that’s there but also benefit those that are also using the area.”
The council will likely make a recommendation on a rezone from Range Grazing to Resort Special during their next meeting, Sept. 5.
For more information about issue, visit page 325 of the council’s Aug. 15 agenda packet, found at www.grandcountyutah.net. Comments may be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailed to: Grand County Council, 125 E. Center St., Moab, UT 84532.