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Little Sahara will be empty on Easter, but that isn't stopping people from recreating

Posted at 10:24 PM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-11 00:24:55-04

JUAB COUNTY, Utah -- Easter weekend is usually the first big camping weekend of the season in Utah, but COVID-19 has led to a lot of closures.

One place that's popular for people to go on a pilgrimage to: Little Sahara.

Usually, cars, trucks and campers line up starting just before Easter weekend, as off-roaders chomp at the bit to get into the sand dune recreation area in Juab County.

Juab County Sheriff Douglas Anderson said they "sometimes can gather as much as 20 to 30,000 people in one setting."

But this year, that's not so. Sheriff Anderson shared photos of an eerily empty Sand Mountain. A deputy sat in his truck at a road block, to prevent anyone from going in.

The sheriff's office didn't want large crowds camping close together during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though, that doesn't mean people are nixing their Easter camping plans entirely.

"There are people that have not stayed home, we know that," Sheriff Anderson said. "And so on the public lands outside the park boundaries, there will be people camping and congregating-- and we've accepted that."

Congregating in groups is against Governor Gary Herbert's current, "Stay Safe Stay Home" directive.

However, much of Utah's public lands are still open and available to recreate on.

The Bureau of Land Management came out with some tips on Friday, suggesting best practices for those who choose to get away and head outdoors.

The BLM is asking people to stay close to home, and avoid popular or crowded sites. This includes trails, parking lots and camping areas.

Both the BLM and Sheriff Anderson stressed the importance of social distancing from others. This means not camping in a large group, and staying away from other campers. This also means not congregating at trailheads.

Be self-reliant, and pack out all trash. The BLM explained that many facilities are closed (read: bathrooms may not be open), and there isn't as much staff going around to pick up trash.

Sheriff Anderson also added that it's a good idea to sanitize often, especially washing hands.

In addition to the COVID-19 measures, Sheriff Anderson gave a reminder that other safety measures in regards to recreating are the same. He explained that includes wearing a helmet, traveling at a reasonable speed, looking out for other riders, not mixing alcohol or drugs and riding.

He indicated that they are more concerned with responding to emergencies, and they aren't out to get anyone in trouble for not social distancing.

"We're not going to take any extreme measures to go into large crowds outside the park boundaries, and ask people to disperse because they've got larger crowds," he said. "That puts us at risk and it creates more contact and exposure."

He just hopes that for people who don't stay home-- that they still stay safe.