RV club wants to return, but SITLA to develop site

This is a drone’s-eye view of a recent RV event held at the old airstrip in Spanish Valley. Photo courtesy of Xscapers RV Club

A large group of RV enthusiasts who recently enjoyed their second annual event on the old airstrip in Spanish Valley will not be able to use the site in the future, and with disappointment are casting hope to the possibility that a similar venue will be available in coming years.

JP Smith, the director of what is called “Convergence” events for the “Xscapers” RV club, told The Times-Independent Tuesday that about 110 RVs were camped at the site a week prior to the annual Easter Jeep Safari. They planned the event well in advance of Safari so as not to have conflicts with longtime campers who have used the area at that time, and to not add to the hubbub of an already busy event.

The land is managed by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, which posts rules and regulations at the site for its use.

“Everyone loves Moab, they absolutely adore it. It’s in one of the prettiest places in the world,” he said of the site.

However, according to SITLA’s Bryan Torgerson, the state will not issue a future permit for the Xscapers in 2020, and perhaps not for other events either, because it’s slated to be developed for housing.

“We have developed plans out there for housing and the old airport is in the first phase,” Torgerson told The Times-Independent Tuesday, April 23. “So we don’t know if that area will be open for them next year or not. We’ve told them they should start looking for another venue.”

Torgerson said SITLA has had numerous meetings with San Juan County officials to hammer out planning and zoning issues. (See related stories in The Times-Independent, April 11, 2019.) He said the state is “looking to get a joint venture partner” to develop housing there.

The Xscapers are an interesting group of employed, full-time RV dwellers that enjoy traveling to different places, primarily in the Western and Southwestern United States. They enjoy the company of friends who belong to the club, and the opportunities to visit many places.

The Xscapers are a subset of an overarching club called the Escapees, which has been around about 40 years and has a membership of about 70,000 people. A “Convergence” event can draw 100 to 200 RVs, who enjoy the social opportunities and safe event spaces provided by the club and its venues.

“Our events are getting pretty large,” said Smith. “Our club has grown exponentially over the last four years and we are worried that this is our last year here.” The group needs an area “about the size of two football fields” that has good cellular connection, particularly for the Xscapers who work full time from their rigs.

The group includes a broad array of career-minded professionals from Fortune 500 firms, professional photographers, social media and website developers, teachers and clerical workers. Its members come from all over the U.S. and Canada, and Convergence events are held monthly in various locales. Smith ideally plans a slate of annual events, from Mexico to Lake Havasu, Arizona, where people can make “annual pilgrimages.” They would like Moab to continue being one of its meccas. “We want to continue to come back to Moab year after year,” he said.

Smith noted that the group is willing to visit Moab during times that are less busy and next year they have their eye on an as-yet-undecided week in May, after Half Marathon, Jeep Safari and the car show. “We like to come outside the busy times,” he said.

The group has been coming here much longer than two years, and has camped on Bureau of Land Management areas such as Yellow Cat. But the convenience, the level terrain of the crumbling landing strip, and the size of the area has been ideal.

The group prides itself on leaving places nicer than they find them. “We always try to do a project during our events,” said Smith, who says club members are good stewards who have cleaned up the areas in which they stay.

He estimates that members spend about $800 per RV during the week they are here, and they pay SITLA a permit fee to use the site. Smith ponders the likelihood that the old airstrip will be a “two and done” event, and he wonders if there is anyplace else they can go in this vicinity. “If someone knows of some private land that can support us, and we can come back year after year, we want to reach out to them.”

As for those who complain about big groups like his coming to town, Smith said, “Moab’s not a secret anymore. We want to keep coming back to Moab.”