Moab Locals Struggle With Increased Pandemic Tourism

Nov 10, 2020

Traffic increases in Moab, UT after high amounts of tourists flock to the town for recreational activity.
Credit Utah Stories

With the temperatures starting to drop in southern Utah, locals of Moab are looking for a bit of relief from a record number of tourists this year.

With many working and attending school vitrually, COVID-19 has boosted tourism in Moab. Business owners are encouraged by the money coming in but Moab local, Mark Thornberry said most tourists are not following CDC guidelines.  

“It seems as if you come to Moab and anything goes here," Thornberry said. "There’s very little social distancing, very little mask wearing, and that’s one issue. I just think the lack of enforcement has encouraged so many people just to flock in here—I mean seriously, we’re eclipsed by tourists.”

Thornberry said it’s not just a fear of getting sick that concerns locals, but with 33 years in recreational resource management, he's seen how increased tourism is taking a toll on the recreational area. 

“Sure, there’s trail damage, which is a natural occurrence; and waste, that’s a natural occurrence when there’s so many people in such a finite area. It’s too much, it’s just not sustainable.”

Jessica O’Leary also lives in Moab. She said it would really help if recreational vehicles, like UTV's, weren’t street legal.

“Residents right now are feeling frustrated that we can’t pass any local restrictions to regulate these vehicles, that we’re dealing with constant noise and traffic, and it’s not safe for younger kids to be riding their bikes around town when it’s bumper to bumper traffic all day long.”

Like a lot of Moab locals, O’Leary said she looks forward to winter and the quieter months ahead but with the pandemic, the tourists just might keep coming.