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(Adventure Journal) Why Little Western Towns Don’t Want to Become ‘Another Moab’

EXCERPT: Conservationists in Moab, Utah, have been heartened by the strong statewide and national support for the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. Yet I was struck by how many people also say that they do not want to become �another Moab.�� This is a fairly common fear in the West. Depending on your location, substitute the idea of becoming yet another Aspen or Park City.
In a way, it’s ironic. For years, Moab’s greens have touted the tourism economy as the alternative to all that nasty drilling and mining. Tourism, they say, avoids the worst of the boom-and-bust cycles characterized by pollution-spewing extractive industries. But everyone has learned that tourism also brings sprawling growth, crappy jobs, ever-higher rents and home prices, and an increasingly unmanageable crush of visitors and traffic.

In Moab, tourism has transformed the area at least as dramatically as any drilling tower or potash pit. We deride the “drill-baby-drillers” for thinking that our natural resources are unlimited, yet we never hear anyone suggest a cap on visitors, even as our national parks become ever more crowded, smashing attendance records year after year.

There is substantial evidence that tourism and lackluster stewardship have not benefitted most locals. Just in the last year, according to the Community Action Partnership of Utah, Grand County’s poverty rate jumped up to 16.3 percent, with Moab’s children hit hardest: 18 percent live in poverty households, shooting up to 49.6 percent for those children under 5 who live with a single mom. Half of Moab’s food stamp households include children.
…Those who advocate for a Bears Ears National Monument like to remind everyone that our nation’s federal land is owned by the whole country, not just the local yokels. Yet Moab, to the disappointment of many longtime visitors, acts as though it believes that surrounding federal lands can be used to extract money from an infinite number of tourists, and to support an ever-expanding party and “adventure” town.

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