Special Feature: Burning Man



Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA

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Brief background about Burning Man
Burning Man is an annual festival described as an “experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance”1 in Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. What started as a gathering of 20 people to celebrate the Summer Solstice on a beach in San Francisco in 1986, has grown to be an international event attracting tens of thousands of participants. In 2010, Burning Man had 51,525 attendees and sold out in 2011 with a record 53,963 attendees for the first time in its history. Burning Man attendees are often self described as “Burners” and the festival grounds as “Black Rock City”, temporarily one of the largest cities in Nevada.

The route to Burning Man traverses the arid and barren Nevada desert and passes through many small and remote towns, including a Native American reservation. Many of these blue collar communities work in the local tourism industry, hunting or for Washoe County. Until recently, the area’s largest employer was the United States Gypsum Corporation (USG) in Empire, the last American company-town that closed in January 20112.

Black Rock Desert is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a US government conservation group claiming Burning Man is the largest Leave No Trace event in the world. Although the festival only lasts one week the Burning Man organization3 stays behind months afterwards to clean up trash generated on the festival grounds and surrounding towns. The organization has to pass cleanup standards and inspection administered by the BLM in order to have their festival permit renewed for the next year.

How do locals in the area feel about the impact of Burning Man has on their communities? How do they feel about the influx of visitors overwhelming their small towns? Local Perspectives on Tourism interviewed some local residents of Reno, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s Reservation, Gerlach; and vendors along State Route 447 from Wadsworth to Burning Man selling merchandise, food and snacks for “Burners”.

Summary of interviews
Majority of the interviewees, many who have never attended the festival, welcomed the festival goers and valued the economic benefits of Burning Man. Some common concerns of the impact of the event were trash and traffic congestion, including reckless driving.

Gerlach, NV

Gerlach is a small town along State Route 447, the road leading to Black Rock Desert from Reno. With a population of only 499, this small town is a major thoroughfare for Burning Man attendees. During the Burning Man festival season, vendors from outside of Gerlach set up food stands, bicycle rental shops and sell festival trinkets along the main road.

Gerlach, NVAnonymous, Gerlach resident | Sep 5, 2011
I would like to see it (Burning Man) go away but I don’t see that happening because it’s all about money and too many people are making money off of this event – though it’s destroying our desert.  Read full interview.

Scotty, food vendor in Gerlach | Sep 5, 2011
Probably boosting the economy (the positives of Burning Man) for a short period of time, locally. You know, it’s definitely interesting for everybody. They (locals) like sitting on their porches and watching people go by. So just entertainment wise it’s, good also.

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s Reservation

The road to Burning Man also goes through the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s Reservation with slightly over 1,000 tribal members residing on the land.

Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation, NVEthel, Pyramid Lake Paiute Resident and Indian taco stand vendor | Sep 5, 2011
I see it (Burning Man) as a positive for the community because it comes during this time of the year when it’s a school year begins. And a lot of grandparents, a lot of parents, put up their stands, put up their stands for food and for their bead work to show the people what they have in their community. And it helps them to provide monies for school, clothes for their children at this time of the year. And, we have some of the families whose children go off to school, to a government boarding school or they go to college and so a lot of the families use this time, to, to raise money for those finances.  Read full interview.

Reno, NV

Reno is the largest town festival goers usually stop at to purchase food, water, and other amenities needed to camp out in the desert. Even with a population of close to 220,000, Reno residents notice the economic impact of Burning Man.

supermarket in RenoAngel, grocery store clerk
Reno, NV | Aug 30, 2011
I think it’s great. This is Christmas in August for us, you know what I mean? We’re making money head over fist. I’m actually taking my boyfriend and his 4-year old daughter to Disneyland in two weeks. And the money I’m making from this is enabling me to go.


Kyle, grocery store clerk
Reno, NV | Aug 30, 2011

Negatives? Probably just the congestion of the traffic all the time with so many people coming through. But other than that, I don’t know. There’s not many… too many negatives, they (Burners) help our economy so can’t be too bad.

Vendors Along State Route 447

Enterprising locals and outside vendors have set up stands along State Route 447 selling merchandise (light-up toys) and food; and offering car washes, bicycle rentals, hot showers and recycling and trash stations targeting Burning Man festival attendees.

GerlachChris, snack vendor raising money for the US Army Nevada National Guard’s Family Readiness Group
Aug 30, 2011 | Nixon, NV

LPT:  What do you think about Burning Man?

Chris: It makes a lot of money.



Vendors along Highway 447Rick (from Fernley, NV), temporary administrator at a recycling and trash disposal station
Wadsworth, Nevada | Sep 5, 2011
Some of the people that are going out there are coming back, they’re in a big hurry and I think they get a little carried away with their driving, you know. I’ve talked to a couple of the locals that live out there – the Indians – and they said they can be going out there and they get run off the road because somebody would pull out to pass. And they’re in a big hurry and they just need to slow down, you know. They’ve had a lot of fun now slow down, relax, enjoy the drive back home and everybody’s happy.

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