MOAB — A group of BASE jumpers is celebrating Thanksgiving around Moab this week as they show their appreciation for search and rescue teams and outdoor management agencies.
The fifth annual Turkey Boogie is expected to bring between 60 and 70 BASE jumpers to the area, along with their family, friends and supporters, organizer Matt Laj said. The event is both a way to celebrate the controversial thrill sport and to raise money for those who support it.
"A lot of people formulate opinions of the activity or the community without really knowing much. It can be very taboo or scary or polarizing," Laj said. "Moab embraces it, and in fact most of Utah allows us to BASE jump, and it's kind of our way … of giving back and maintaining positive relationships with a community that is good to us."
The fundraiser is one of several outdoor events happening in the area this week, including the GGBY Slackline event, which is being officially organized for the first time this year.
GGBY started as an unofficial highline event 10 years ago, according to the event's website. Participants at the gathering balance their way along lines of flat webbing stretched across the red rock crevices in the Fruit Bowl Highline Area. While the event was free in previous years, it has grown large enough to necessitate permits and other facilities for participants and now requires a ticket. GGBY is scheduled for Tuesday through Saturday.
Over its first four years, Turkey Boogie raised about $38,000 for Grand County Search and Rescue, Laj said. Now, organizers hope the event's annual raffle will bring in $12,000 to be shared between the searchers and the Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Service in the area.
If the fundraiser hits its goal, Laj notes, the event will have raised $50,000 in five years.
Laj, who now lives in Moab, says BASE jumping — leaping from a fixed structure or a cliff, then gliding to the ground with a parachute or wing suit — has taken him all over the world and introduced him to remarkable friends.
"It has introduced me to people who essentially say yes to life," Laj said. "Between those people and their strengths, and the places where we're allowed to BASE jump or BASE jumping is possible, it's just an amazing combination."
Jumps are done in small groups throughout the weeklong event in a variety of spots around Moab, Laj said. While a large number of jumpers come from Utah, Colorado and California, the event is attracting an increasingly international crowd. On Sunday, Laj jumped with participants from England, France, Switzerland and Colombia.
The Turkey Boogie has roots dating back to the year 2000 when about eight BASE jumpers gathered in Moab to make a jump and celebrate Thanksgiving together, Laj said.
"It kind of became their tradition, each year a few more people were added to the table," Laj said.
Over time, the number of participants grew and the group began spending more time in Moab. Four years ago, the event became a fundraiser as manufacturers of BASE jumping equipment began donating piles of high-end gear for a raffle, Laj said. Tickets sell for $10 apiece.
More than 200 people are expected at the raffle on Wednesday night, according to Laj.
While the first four years of proceeds from Turkey Boogie went to Grand County Search and Rescue, Laj praised the organization for its encouragement to "spread the money around" this year.
It's notable that one of the beneficiaries of this year's event will be the National Parks Service.
While BASE jumping is not allowed in national parks, Laj said the event is donating part of its proceeds to the park service this year because a passion for the sport and a love of the outdoors go hand in hand.
While Laj hopes that BASE jumping could someday become possible in the parks through a permit program, participants at Turkey Boogie are happy to lend support no matter what happens, especially in light of federal budget cuts.
"It's kind of my tip of the hat to say, 'Hey, we know what the rules are, we hear you, we're not going anywhere and we're here to work with you,'" Laj said. "No matter what's going on, we love our parks and support our parks."