As off-road enthusiasts descend upon Moab for the 49th annual Easter Jeep Safari, Sara Melnicoff is preparing her Moab Solutions crew for another annual off-road activity — the unofficial gatherings at Potato Salad Hill.
Although not part of the Jeep Safari events, Potato Salad Hill draws thousands of people each year, who set up lawn chairs and crack open drinks as they watch drivers test their mettle trying to ascend the steep, rocky terrain and make it “over the hill.”
For more than a decade, Moab Solutions volunteers have worked to reduce the environmental impacts at Potato Salad Hill by promoting trash cleanup, recycling, and marking designated roads with rocks.
This year, Melnicoff, the group’s founder, reached out to local bike tour company Rim Tours to provide shuttle service to help reduce the impact of vehicle traffic to the lands surrounding Potato Salad Hill.
“Over the last 11 or 12 years we have been working with a variety of agencies, off-road enthusiasts and volunteers to maximize protection to the land, minimize waste and litter,” Melnicoff said. “One cause of damage to the land is trying to fit hundreds of cars into a place that doesn’t have room for them.”
Rim Tours agreed, and will provide shuttles on Easter weekend. The shuttles will be available Friday, April 3 and Saturday, April 4 from 2 to 6 p.m. from the old Red Rock Elementary school site on Mill Creek Drive, across the street from Rotary Park, to the top of Potato Salad Hill.
Rim Tours co-owner Kirstin Peterson said the company was interested in donating its time and services to help reduce traffic in the area.
“Rim Tours, like a lot of businesses in town, donates time, services and dollars to many worthy causes in our community, and this is just one that seemed worth investigating as a way to help decrease damage within our area from the effects of too many people trying to get to a popular event during Easter week,” Peterson said
Melnicoff hopes the shuttle service will help expand Moab Solutions’ waste reduction efforts, which have included setting up recycling stations where volunteers offer to collect trash and recyclables.
Abby Scott, who manned recycling stations at the site last year, says the waste reduction message was positively received by off-road enthusiasts.
“We walked around with buckets and pointed out there was recycling by the Dumpster. We saw very few recyclables in the trash and everyone was pretty positive about it,” Scott said. “We also pointed out that recycling helps the county cover the costs of waste management. So in a positive, silly way it was a great way to tell people about recycling.”
The lands surrounding Potato Salad Hill are owned by both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).
BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Katie Stevens said she believes that this year’s shuttle system will improve vehicular crowding at Potato Salad Hill.
“I think anyone would think that’s a great idea,” Stevens said. “It would relieve crowding.”
The BLM — whose lands run from the top of the hill to Mill Creek — has designated it’s Potato Salad Hill holdings as an area of critical environmental concern (ACEC), which requires special management for the protection of resources and natural systems.
Melnicoff often mentions the ACEC when talking about Potato Salad Hill and the importance for its environmental protection.
Ten years ago, she even caught the ear of Off-Road Business Association (ORBA) member Jeff Knoll, who read about Melnicoff’s Potato Salad Hill cleanup work in The Times-Independent when he was in town for Jeep Safari.
“It was my second trip to Moab, and I read that Sara [Melnicoff] was up there cleaning every morning. The following year I said we would organize a cleanup project. I’ve been working with her ever since,” Knoll said.
Off-road group Rocky Mountain Extreme also became involved, and each year raises funds for a much-needed Dumpster and portable bathrooms.
“At the end of the day, we all want the same things,” Knoll said about off-road groups and environmentalists. “I’d like to say I’m an environmentalist as well. Whether you’re motor powered or human powered, we all want the same things for the environment.”
This year, Knoll raised $1,000 within two hours for Moab Solutions by reaching out to the off-road community.
“Within two hours, I got more than what I asked for — all from off-road people,” Melnicoff said.
Melnicoff and Knoll said they look forward to an upcoming ORBA meeting this April, where they hope to secure regular annual funding for Moab Solutions’ work at Potato Salad Hill.
For more information about Potato Salad Hill or to volunteer, go to the Moab Solutions website: moab-solutions.org.