To burn or not to burn

  • BURNING DEBATE: A 40-foot-tall totem blazes in the Nevada desert

    Rick Egan photo
  Another 40-foot stick-figure totem will be set ablaze by 12,000 revelers in the desert in Nevada if a federal agency says yes to the San Francisco-based organizers.

Last year the Burning Man arts get-together was moved to private land, where county fees, including $308,000 for fire insurance alone, drove the festival into debt. That made them look again at BLM land.

Festival organizer Marian Goodell says, "We had to move back to public land. But the Bureau of Land Management turned our application away." BLM District Manager Ron Wenker responds, "We were caught off guard. We were too understaffed." Festival organizers charged censorship and protested Wenker's decision until he recruited state BLM employees to help review the application. A decision is expected June 1.

Goodell says the Labor Day gathering is more than an arts festival. "It's a temporary, self-contained, low-impact pedestrian city built in the desert where people can be safely creative and expressive." She adds that attendees will be instructed how to "come prepared and depart without leaving a trace."

Festival critics hope the teaching takes. In Nevada's Black Rock Desert, some revelers cemented a hot tub near two historic watering holes. The Sierra Club and some Western historians say the celebration threatens to obliterate wagon tracks worn in the ground by 19th century immigrants.

*JT Thomas

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