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Opinion: Kane Creek was supposed to be a 10-acre campground

It wasn’t clear where tourism would take Moab, but changing a 10-acre parcel to a commercial zoning seemed a thoughtful beginning.

(Photo courtesy of Doug McMurdo) A heavy equipment operator works on the Kane Creek development at King’s Bottom.

In the late 1980s, Moab was a town in painful transition. Mining had been a boom, but now was a bust. In an effort to seek new economic development, Moabites had chosen not to site a toxic waste incinerator nearby.

By the early 1990s, then-Grand County Commission Chair David Knutson was warning that depending on tourism alone for jobs, and Moab’s future, needed to be very carefully considered. Some tourists had already discovered the beauty of the river corridor and were camping in increasing numbers, freely using their camps as bathrooms. If tourism was to be an economic anchor, plans to intelligently manage the numbers of people coming needed to be developed quickly.

The Bureau of Land Management began to find areas along the Colorado River that could be developed into adequate campgrounds. The city and county examined existing infrastructure and sought advice about what would be needed to become a successful tourist destination.

In the midst of this, Charles Nelson was aware of the impending health problem caused by illegal and careless camping in the areas surrounding Moab. Exercising his lawful property rights, he proposed to the county commission that a 10-acre site he owned would provide a camping place close enough to the river, but far enough from town, to be an alternate and attractive place for campers.

He recognized that a formal campground would help put a stop to bathroom waste and campground litter, bring a little revenue to the family, and provide a beginning to the control of Moab’s tourism aspirations. He envisioned 10 acres of his much larger holding to be large enough to help the problem, but not so large or commercial as to impact the wetlands and adjacent river.

His stated intent was to be a small part of helping the community adjust to a new role, while being mindful of being a good steward of land use.

At this time, it wasn’t clear where tourism would take Moab, but changing this 10-acre parcel to a commercial zoning seemed a thoughtful beginning. Planning commission and county commission notes reflect that much discussion of commercial impact and ecological issues occurred before a decision was made.

I was a Grand County Commissioner when this zoning change was proposed. This was still the time of handshake deals, and faith in honest business transactions. Above all, this was a time of changes, and decision makers were doing their very best to lead Moab to a successful future.

In this case, commissions and the landowner were in concert that both property rights and use of the land as a proposed campground were wisely and satisfactorily agreed upon. The minutes of the meeting to reach this decision reflect this agreement.

There are two important points in this history; one is evidenced by the request for a zone change: there was never an intent to create more than a modest commercial impact on the 10 acres of zone change agreed upon, evolved into the resulting ordinance, which includes many, many more acres than included in the original zone change application.

Sam Cunningham

Sam Cunnigham was a Grand County Commissioner in 1992.

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