Burning Man counterculture festival moving deeper into the desert

RENO - The Burning Man arts festival is moving farther into the Black Rock Desert and ending ticket sales the last four days of the weeklong event to make the counterculture celebration safer.

The Bureau of Land Management issued a permit Friday for the a location 3 miles north of the old site where 24,000 artists, spiritualists, old hippies, young thrill-seekers and other curious travelers celebrated Labor Day last year about 120 miles northeast of Reno.

In its formal environmental assessment, the BLM describes Burning Man as a ''combination art festival, social event and experiment in community living.''

Organizers say it is the largest outdoor arts festival in North America, a psychedelic adventure that combines wilderness camping with avant-garde performance - a Mardi Gras-like celebration on what appears to be the surface of the moon. Clothing is optional.

''The most important thing this year is that we are significantly changing the way people purchase tickets at the event,'' said Marian Goodell, Burning Man's ''mistress of communication'' based in San Francisco.

From 25,000 to 28,000 are expected at this year's event Aug. 28 through Sept. 4. But in a break from past tradition, tickets will not be sold on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday.

''It is a safety thing and people should know they can't drive out on Saturday and Sunday and get tickets,'' Goodell said.

About 3,000 people bought tickets at the gate from noon Friday to 3 p.m. Saturday at last year's event, she said.

This year tickets are $185 for the week, rising to $200 after Aug. 14. About 15,000 have been sold.

The 15th annual event will culminate as usual with the torching of a 50-foot wooden man draped in fireworks and neon. Artists are encouraged to toss their paintings, sculptures and other creations onto the raging bonfire to reinforce the celebration of art for art's sake.

Burning Man creator Larry Harvey said the event is an outgrowth of ''San Francisco's Bohemian Scene.'' He started the first one at Baker Beach in 1986 with the burning of an 8-foot effigy and moved to the Nevada desert in 1990.

Organizers will pay the BLM $466,800 for a permit to cover the environmental assessment, planning and other agency staff costs.

The permit stipulates organizers will remove trash, fill holes, repair burn scars, mark roads and water the desert to reduce dust. It even outlines the specifications of a temporary 5,000-foot aircraft runway to be built in the desert.

The BLM concluded that last year's festival site was unsafe because of its proximity to Union Pacific railroad tracks. Although there were no accidents, trains were forced to slow or stop because of festival participants on or near the tracks, BLM officials said.

The new site will improve safety for other users of the desert, the BLM said, especially the railroad and ''land sailing enthusiasts'' who skim across the dried mud like wind surfers on wheels.

The new site, about 7 miles northeast of Gerlach, will be used for a minimum of three years, said Terry Reed, BLM field manager in Winnemucca.

''Keeping the event at the same site for successive years will ensure sufficient time to complete monitoring and to assess the effectiveness of mitigating measures,'' Reed said.

''It also will give the Burning Man organization an opportunity to complete additional cleanup and restore the sites on the playa they've used in the past.''

Organizers had proposed a new site 10 miles northeast of Gerlach, but are pleased with the compromise, Goodell said.

The BLM said ''substantial public concern'' was raised about the group's proposed site. ''This site will minimize conflicting uses.''

In addition, ''there was substantial support from residents in the adjacent community of Gerlach for the event to remain near their community.

''The impacts to the environment and natural resources have been determined to be temporary. Reusing the southern Black Rock Desert playa area is determined to have no significant impacts to the environment.''


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