For decades, Utah's Sand Flats — and specifically, the Slickrock Trail — has been a place where people spend their energy in the best possible way.
The trail itself — a 10.5-mile meander through petrified sand dunes on an ancient sea bed — has been hailed as "the most famous bike trail in the world."
Now the park may be joining the enormous swaths of once-pristine Utah land already slated for development, a place where energy isn't just spent, but also extracted.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing that two parcels of land near Moab be auctioned off to oil and gas companies. One of those would swallow up two-thirds of the Slickrock Trail. If those lands, combining for a total of 5,000 acres, do fall into the hands of energy companies, it would likely have a negative impact on the 160,000 people who visit Moab every year to get their nature fix.
"My concern is always that we maintain a balance in our valley and county and surrounding public lands. We know oil and gas are part of the makeup of our economy," Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus tells The Salt Lake Tribune. "We have done a good job of saying where recreation goes and where extraction goes. My question is: Are the recreation areas going to be negatively impacted?"
According to the Tribune, there isn't much energy to be tapped in those spectacular sandstone formations. But for some companies, it may still be worth a shot. The question is, at what price?
The first parcel, covering much of the Slickrock Trail, would also block access to essential roads leading to other trails, notably the famed Porcupine Rim trail, as well as a popular biking circuit dubbed The Whole Enchilada. Another parcel proposed for auction falls within a mile of Arches National Monument.
The parcels also overlap the watershed that supplies natural springs in Grandstaff Canyon, the source of drinking water for the people of Moab.
The good news is that the proposal is still in the earliest stages, with the BLM opening the proposal to public comment this week.
"If we speak up we have a really good chance of winning this one because it's ridiculous," Ashley Korenblat, managing director of Moab-based nonprofit Public Land Solutions, tells Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.
Besides, she adds, the value doesn't hold up. Any proceeds from oil and gas drilling are likely to be dwarfed by the lost revenue from the enormous amount of tourism Moab sees.
"We have a good chance of winning," she adds. "But not if we do nothing."
You can see the full letter she wrote to the Secretary of the Interior opposing the plan and the companies that have joined her in opposing it. To keep up with the process, including the window for public comment, you can bookmark the lease sale page. (When it opens up for public comment, it will look like this page for a different lease sale.)
The land management agency has yet to define which specific parcels will be available in the upcoming June auction. But judging by the ever-shrinking protections for national monuments, it's fair to say that Utah's natural heritage finds itself on increasingly shaky ground.