The 53rd Annual Easter Jeep Safari and Expo begins Saturday and it won’t end until Easter Sunday nine days later.
Four-wheel-drive excursions will be taken on 40 separate trails over that span of time and every one of them is already at capacity, said Rex Holman, the business manager for event sponsor Red Rock 4-Wheelers.
The Easter Jeep Safari is the busiest event of the year after its modest start in 1967 when the Moab Chamber of Commerce sponsored the happening. The Red Rock 4-Wheelers took over the operation in the early 1980s and after nearly 40 years, they have a system in place that allows for outstanding organization from perspectives both logistical and from a customer service standpoint.
“We have the advantage of having done this for a long time,” said Holman.
Not only will virtually every jeeping trail in the region be used at least once over the nine days, the Old Spanish Trail Arena will bustle with activity, especially from April 18-21 when the free expo is held and 200 vendors are on hand. Also, various businesses will sponsor events for participants from all over town, as well.
While Holman said the club doesn’t share specific numbers ever since someone a few years ago erroneously reported 50,000 visitors would attend the event, he did say that the estimated economic impact for the area was between $9 million and $12 million. Holman made it clear there were no hard studies commissioned to make that determination, but rather educated guesses and the kind of figuring you would “put on the back of a napkin.”
It’s a safe bet every hotel and motel room, B&B, and any other form of overnight lodging will be filled – especially campgrounds – and all of those people will need fuel, food and fun.
Vendors will be out in force and some of them will run side trail rides separate from the Safari. “The BLM has somewhere between 12 and 15 vendor runs,” said Holman.
To give an idea how the event has grown over the years, Holman recounted how registration used to be at the Eddie McStiff’s complex when it was called The Barn, an empty building owned at the time by the Canyonlands Field Institute, which rented the building to the 4-Wheelers during the event.
It outgrew that locale and moved “up the hill” to the old senior center at the end of 100 North, where the Grand County EMS is now headquartered next to the Rockridge Senior Housing apartments. “That lasted about seven years and we outgrew it,” said Holman. “We went to the arena about 20 years ago. We’ve just grown and grown.”
They come from all over the world. A fairly large contingent of Israelis will participate in this event. A few years ago several Australians made the trek to Moab. They’re coming from Puerto Rico, Mexico and China. In addition to the expense of getting here, lodging, food and other items, riders pay $50 apiece for each trail.
In an effort to provide a more enjoyable experience, every single participant has been handed comment cards in recent years. They were encouraged to be candid and “let it all out,” said Holman, and they did. The overwhelming complaint is a familiar refrain for locals: The trails are too crowded.
Holman acknowledged the club used to not concern itself with limiting the number of riders, but all those comments influenced them to set “sold out” standards and now, the largest trails are limited to 40 vehicles, but most are topped out at between 25 and 35, said Holman.
“We made the conscience decision to limit the number because we want people to enjoy themselves,” he said.
It’s also good for the land, he said. Holman, acknowledging criticisms of the toll the Easter Jeep Safari might have on the land, said that the Safari used to be the largest sponsor of motorized trail events, but since it placed limits on participants, the nine local commercial operators now put more 4x4s on the trails than does the Safari.
“Those commercial operators are out there three times a day, seven days a week from February to November,” he said.
He also said the Red Rock 4-Wheelers spend between $6,000 and $12,000 a year on trail maintenance. He said members of the club’s “oldtimer” group ride trails every Thursday in search of damage or things that otherwise need repaired. Sometimes they make the repairs on the spot. Other times the club or the BLM will do the work. It’s necessary because some people either don’t have the skills, the correct vehicle – or both – to safely negotiate some of the more arduous trails and have to be rescued.
Holman said the success of the club, and especially the ongoing popularity of the Easter Jeep Safari, has occurred for one reason: “Volunteers,” he said. “It’s all thanks to the volunteers. And they are true volunteers. We give them gas money and they might get a couple of free meals over the course of the year, a free jacket in a couple of years … but that’s it and they do so much. If we had to pay them we couldn’t do this.”