Growth in tourism sparks fear in residents


I sat through about half of the awkward “open house” the evening of March 26, rather surprised at the testimonial format of the event. Initially I did not plan to speak but I did, rather awkwardly, because we have been here before. We were here in the 1990s and early 2000s when the tourism boom started.

How naïve we were then about how things could change once out-of-area investors decided Moab was the next investment opportunity.

At the meeting on Tuesday night, person after person got up and spoke about impacts of nightly rentals on their neighborhood, or their frustration with traffic congestion, or the lack of housing for residents, or their fear of increased density where they live, or their concern that they would lose rights to develop their property, or their concerns that Moab is turning into a corporate money-making machine rather than a community. Some were recent transplants; many had lived here for over 25 years, and some for their whole lives. Most sounded sad, defeated, and deflated.

The underlying theme last night was fear. The exact shape of that fear is a little different for each of us, but underlying them all is the uncertainty of change. This was true whether we have been here for 100 years, we married into a family that has been here since 1908, we moved here in the ’70s to work at distant relatives’ business, or we only moved here three years ago.

We are all afraid of losing something. To my relief, most sound like they want to stay here; without residents Moab is not a community.

There also is a fear that is nearly paralyzing for many longtime Moab residents – the fear that the economy will tank and all the jobs will go away if the community puts constraints on growth. For those who grew up here, whose families have been here for generations, this fear has serious teeth because these families lived through the bust of the uranium boom. They scraped by and made it work and are still here now. This fear may seem irrational to many who moved here to retire, or who have a secure job. Those who lived through it know it is not.

Reconciling these seemingly opposing fears, and making space for Moab to be a vibrant community composed of pioneer families, river rats, sprocket heads, off-road enthusiasts, artists and retirees is possible if the tension between the fear of losing what makes Moab a community and the fear of losing the ability to live and work is addressed head on in a way that engages the community in a conversation that brings Moab’s residents together.

This is a tall order, and having a timeline of less than six months makes it even harder. But hopefully, when the moratorium expires we can all remember that whether we were born here 50 years ago, got high centered here 28 years ago, or moved here two years ago but are already putting down roots, we all are a part of the Moab community. And if there are more nightly rentals and second homes than residents – that community crumbles and may disintegrate.

If you consider Moab your home please take the time to get engaged in the planning process even though the busy season is upon us. You can find out more at or by contacting the City of Moab or Grand County planning departments, attending planning commission meetings, contacting a planning commissioner or a council member (city or county) or just talking it over with your friends, learning more and submitting comments. Planning sounds boring, and can feel like a waste of time, and when the community participates it can also bring us together.

Grateful to call Moab home (and rather terrified of the changes happening to it).

– Kara Dohrenwend