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Moab lodge plan hinges on meaning of 'wilds'

Land-use designation is for sheepherders, not resorts, opponents say

MOAB — With hiking trails surrounding the Cloudrock Lodge and elk grazing in the nearby open space, offering wilderness as part of the overall experience seems reasonable.

But building the high-end resort under the same classification as a backcountry bunkhouse has angered some opponents of Cloudrock, who question the "wilderness lodge" classification for a lodge that will also have a gift shop and dining. Led by the Moab Citizens Alliance, opponents have even drafted a new ordinance that would create a "rural resort" designation for developments such as Cloudrock.

"They're building a whole village with 300 to 400 units and they call it wilderness," said Mark Sundeen, co-founder of the MCA. "They're hitching their wagon to a Ritz-Carlton and trying to call it a wilderness lodge."

Historically, the wilderness lodge concept came about as a way for sheepherders and cattle ranchers to supplement their meager incomes by providing basic lodging for outdoor adventurers. The intention, Sundeen said, was for the ranchers to provide necessities such as a bed, a meal and a bath.

What the wilderness lodge concept did not intend was for a 225-room lodge with resort amenities, Sundeen said, which the Cloudrock Lodge will offer. Also, the wilderness-lodge concept was never intended for nearby family and employee housing, which Cloudrock developers have planned.

The MCA proposal was recently presented to the Grand County Council, which referred it to the Planning and Zoning Commission for review. Although MCA members say the proposed ordinance was not presented as a way to stop Cloudrock, its existence could present another obstacle for Cloudrock as it winds its way toward County Council approval.

The biggest problem for the county leaders who will decide the fate of Cloudrock is the very definition of wilderness, County Councilwoman Kim Schappert said. The current wilderness-lodge ordinance would allow large-scale resort developments, even if that goes beyond the original intent.

"The concept is more of a backcountry thing," Schappert said. "Given what everyone's concept of wilderness is today, it is a little strange to call (Cloudrock) wilderness."

Even Moab Mesa Land Co. President Michael Liss, the Cloudrock developer, agrees that the term wilderness could confuse people. Despite that, he insists that his lodge does provide all of the experiences that people should expect from a wilderness-oriented vacation.

"From our lodge site, you will feel like you're in nature," Liss said. "The idea is to create a place where you can enjoy all of the natural surroundings that you visited for in the first place."


E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com