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Desert towns pull in the welcome mat for mountain bikers

MOAB, Utah (BRAIN) — For many mountain bikers and Spring Breakers from around the country, a March trip to Utah is an annual tradition. But this year the town would rather tourists stay home. Starting Tuesday evening it could be very difficult to find a place to sleep, eat or rent a bike there.


On Monday a regional health department banned camping and hotel stays in a three-county area surrounding Moab. The order also closed restaurants except for takeout and delivery. Two of the town’s busiest bike shops — which do a huge bike rental and demo business in season — each closed on Tuesday.

The lodging and camping ban was enacted in part to discourage visitors who could overtax Moab’s health services.

As of Tuesday, the day the lodging ban took effect, Moab trails were still busy, said Mark Sevenoff, the owner of Western Spirit, a Moab-based mountain bike trip company.

“Despite all the warnings there’s a lot of people in town,” Sevenoff said. After Colorado ordered ski resorts to close Sunday, many vacationers drove to Utah to mountain bike and hike and perhaps just wait out the COVID-19 in the clean desert air. Most Utah ski resorts announced voluntary closures on Sunday, as well. 

On Monday, officials with Moab Regional Hospital sent a letter to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert asking him to take more aggressive action to control the spread of COVID-19 and protect Moab’s health care resources.

“Although the desert around Moab is vast, the town itself is small … cruise ship small … with similar isolation and limitations in resources,” the hospital’s CEO and chief of staff wrote in the letter, reprinted on Moabtimes.com. “As a 17-bed critical access hospital, we have no ICU and minimal capability to care for critical respiratory patients,” the letter continued.

The letter was sent before the Southeast Utah Health Department issued the order Monday restricting hotels reservations and camping, among other restrictions.

The department’s order allows hotel guests who are already checked in to stay through their reservation, but no new check-ins or reservations are allowed. Local residents or out-of-towners in Moab for work are allowed to rent rooms and camp. The order takes effect at 10 p.m. Tuesday and will be in effect for 30 days.

Moab’s Poison Spider Bicycles said it would be closed for two weeks. Chile Pepper Bike Shop said it would be closed until April.

In Fruita, Colorado, a popular mountain bike destination about an hour east of Moab, the trails were crowded Tuesday, reported David DeKeyser, a BRAIN columnist who lives there.

“Trails totally packed today with out-of-towners. City Market (Fruita’s grocery store) lot is full of adventure vans,” Dekeyser said Tuesday. Fruita has not enacted a lodging or camping ban.

Over the Edge, the town’s best known bike shop, closed Tuesday with plans to reopen April 1.

The Over the Edge location in Sedona, Arizona, remains open for rentals and service, but store access is limited, according to the store’s Facebook page. The Over the Edge in Hurricane, Arizona, also remains open. However, the Hurricane Mountain Bike Festival, which had been scheduled for March 27-29, has been rescheduled to October.

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