Return to Burning Man: Few traces of 35,000 revelers

BLACK ROCK DESERT - Roger Farschon, ecologist with the U. S. Bureau of Land Management, looked at the clear plastic bag in his hand with a bit of debris inside, jiggled it around and said, "Looks pretty good."

He was talking about the BLM's checkup on the site of the annual Burning Man Festival on the playa of the Black Rock Desert, a few miles from Gerlach.

The controversial "alternative lifestyle" event drew 35,000 people to the sun-baked playa in September. That's quite a crowd for a site with no permanent facilities, no water, nothing but the towering Burning Man, ignited on the last day of the festival.

Needless to say, there's no state or city department of streets - let alone streets - to clean things up, so the people from the festival itself do the work. They start right after the festival winds down, cleaning everything from plastic bags to bent nails to costume sequins off the clay-like surface of the playa.

Last September, Farschon, along with BLM's Dave Cooper, incident commander for the BLM for Burning Man, came

to the playa to inspect the cleanup. They divided the dozen or more people into teams, gave each team a metal stake with a revolving wheel wrapped with twine and with the aid of GPS position devices assigned the team a location to inspect.

The teams drove the stake into the playa, unrolled the twine and stretched out along the line. The teams then walked in a large circle, looking for anything not natural to the playa. Everything found was saved for Farschon's evaluation. The process was repeated at several specific sites where heavy traffic had been experienced.

This summer the process was repeated and the results were positive enough for the ecologist to pronounce, "Good job."

Cooper reported a few weeks later that the Burning Man permit - with 74 special stipulations - had been renewed for this year's Aug. 29-Sept. 5 festival.

"The site looked very good. You couldn't tell there was anything that had gone on there," Cooper said. "At the exact site of the Burning Man there wasn't a trace of anything out of the ordinary."

Cooper, who is supervisor of the Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area, will be on hand for the festival in charge of the 70-person BLM staff, most of whom will be law enforcement personnel.

"All state, federal and local laws are enforced. We don't look the other way. Break the law and suffer the consequences. The Burning Man handout makes it clear that laws must be followed and violations will be enforced," Cooper said.

"BLM costs are covered by a portion of the ticket sales, $4 per day per person attending," Cooper said. "There's enough over our costs to allow the BLM to continue projects up in the nearby Calico Mountains for hikers."

For David E. Book, a Reno Realtor who is also a BLM volunteer, the return to the festival site was a chance to check up on his work during the event. He placed a GPS on his bike, rode to various sites during the proceedings and took photos. This summer he again used the GPS system to check on sites.

"I'm standing right where they torched the Burning Man," Book said as he checked his GPS. "And you can't tell a thing went on here."

Book's system of identifying sites with photos and the GPS worked so well Farschon said the BLM may adopt it in August.

Will Roger Peterson, whose e-mail address is, is in charge of the Burning Man cleanup crew and was pleased with the final inspection. "But we'll do better this next time," he said.

n Contact reporter Sam Bauman at or 881-1236.


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