SPECIAL FEATURE: BURNING MAN
Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA
View Burning Man in a larger map
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 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.
Anonymous, Gerlach resident | Sep 5, 2011
Scotty, food vendor in Gerlach | Sep 5, 2011
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.
Ethel, Pyramid Lake Paiute Resident and Indian taco stand vendor | Sep 5, 2011
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.
Angel, grocery store clerk
Kyle, grocery store clerk
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.
LPT: What do you think about Burning Man?
Chris: It makes a lot of money.
Rick (from Fernley, NV), temporary administrator at a recycling and trash disposal station