ST. GEORGE — While hundreds of visitors were roaring over sand dunes near Sand Mountain in Hurricane for the recent Winter 4X4 Jamboree, a representative from the event sponsor took the opportunity to talk about their group’s fight with major developers.
Steve Maxfield, chair of The People’s Right and member of the Desert Roads and Trails Society, told St. George News he has seen an increasing number of illegal “for sale” signs littering Sand Hollow.
“Sand Hollow is not for sale,” he said. “They might as well get it out of their head now and stay on their side of the highway.”
In previous years, Maxfield has played an instrumental role in preserving the OHV area of Sand Hollow State Park, working on the most recent successful statewide referendum.
Several local and statewide groups worked together to ensure that everyone’s needs were met, Maxfield said, including the Division of Natural Resource, Desert Tortoise Research and building and development teams. The 2011 referendum was successful and set aside 20,000 acres of Sand Mountain for public use, including the creation of an open travel OHV sandbox.
Over time, however, Maxfield said he has seen more and more developers attempt to use the land that is zoned for public use for private gain. Throughout the years, the illegal “for sale” signs have popped up along the mountain.
If developers want a fight, they’ve found one, he said, adding that he has worked with the city of Hurricane to zone the land and create a zoning annex overlay that ensures changes are subject to citizen referendums.
“If they’re going to try what they continue to do, there is a group that will actively oppose any development using the referendum and initiative power,” he said.
Desert Roads and Trails Society — more commonly known as Desert RATS — offers people the opportunity to experience all that Southern Utah’s red sand has to offer. Armed with six-door Jeeps and other improved vehicles, Desert RATS takes groups onto tours of Sand Mountain trails, stopping at breathtaking views along the way.
From the Top of the World site to the sand dunes and natural rock structures that create the Flintstone House, there are a number of unique stops to take on the all-day trip.
“There’s no other place in the world that can replace that,” Maxfield said. “It takes pressure off of Zion, and it is unique. We absolutely have to preserve them.”
Developer Patrick Manning, notably known for Entrada as well as a potential development called Black Desert in Ivins and Santa Clara, said he has always considered development to be a platform to give people experiences. However, a particular experience with some guests changed his view on the importance of available public lands.
While chopping wood for a Dutch oven at a mountain ranch he owns near Zion, Manning was asked by a doctor from New York if he could chop a piece of firewood. Manning handed over the ax, offering guidance when needed, before the doctor cut the piece in two.
When the developer went to take the pieces and place them on the fire, the doctor took them back and placed a piece under each arm, wanting to keep each piece as a souvenir of the time he cut firewood.
“How simple is it to really reach people in a visceral way, in an organic way?” Manning said. “That’s what development is to me now, taking projects that can get people out.”
Now Manning designs his developments with an average of 60% open space, and he is working with local groups to preserve the land on and around Sand Mountain.
Maxfield said this is an approach he can appreciate.
“It’s not okay to maximize profits at the expense of people and the environment,” he said.
Maxfield hopes people will “disconnect to reconnect,” using the time out in the sandbox to be away from their phones and experience the trails, and he said the Winter 4×4 Jamboree helps bring more people from around the country to enjoy the unique opportunities Southern Utah has to offer.
Jonathan Hunt, park manager of Sand Hollow State Park, told St. George News he is always excited to have the jamboree and other groups use the public lands available in the park.
“It’s a neat event to have this many people come together to enjoy Washington County,” he said.
As part of the endeavors, Desert RATS donates time and money to preserve and improve the area as best they can. A composting bathroom, for example, located on the top of Competition Hill was a joint effort between the Desert Rats and state park officials.
Most of all, however, the jamboree shows locals that Sand Mountain can be a fun experience if they “play safe.”
“Put on your safety flags, wear helmets and watch out for each other and help each other when you’re in a bind,” Hunt said.
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