Authorities want to build a 10-mile wall around Burning Man's desert site — here's why and when it could happen

Jim Urquhart/Reuters
  • Burning Man is a cultural festival taking place in the Nevada desert that has attracted up to 80,000 attendees for its many art installations, musical performances, and general mayhem.
  • Ahead of this year’s festival, Nevada federal authorities proposed building a 10-mile concrete wall around the site to improve security and prevent trash blowing away in dust storms.
  • The wall will not be constructed for this year, but it’s a real possibility in order for organisers to secure a 10-year permit for future Burning Man events.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Burning Man is built around ideas of freedom and unstructuredness for festivalgoers in the middle of the desert, but it’s possible the event may have a bit more structure in the future.

The federal agency that administers the Black Rock Desert, where Burning Man takes place, proposed back in March that a 10-mile concrete barrier be built around the perimeter of the site. Burning Man organisers have protested that such a wall goes directly against the festival’s core principles.

For Burning Man 2019, which kicked off Sunday, no barriers or wall will be erected, authorities told Business Insider. But Burning Man’s future depends on its ability to secure a permit from Nevada land officials, who decide whether or not the festival can continue on as is at in the desert.

Here’s everything you need to know about why there’s a proposal for concrete barriers around Burning Man, and how the wall could change the future of the festival:


Burning Man is an annual nine-day festival in the Nevada desert comprised of art installations, musical performances, and general mayhem. The event kicked off this past weekend, and over 80,000 attendees are expected.


Burning Man started out in 1986 as nothing more than a small gathering on a San Francisco beach. But the event has since evolved into a massive temporary metropolis in the middle of the desert — called Black Rock City — with thousands of camps and villages and campers taking over the “playa.”

Reuters/Jim Urquhart

Source: Business Insider


Burning Man has been hosted in the Nevada desert for nearly 30 years. The organisers of the festival is a nonprofit called the Burning Man Project, who is able to host the event on public Nevada land because of an ongoing permit from the state’s Bureau of Land Management.

Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Source: Bureau of Land Management


However, organisers’ latest permit expired in 2018, so they were put on the hook to secure a new permit from Nevada for this year’s event. They requested a 10-year renewal that would give the festival permission to continue operating at its current location through 2028, and ultimately grow to a capacity of 100,000 festival-goers.

Reuters

Sources: Burning Man Project, Bureau of Land Management


Federal law requires that the Bureau of Land Management conducts an environmental impact analysis ahead of granting anyone a permit for using federal land. BLM published the first draft of it impact statement, to review the event’s “potential “environmental, social, and economic consequences,” on March 15 of this year.

Aly Weisman/Business Insider

Sources: Burning Man Project, Bureau of Land Management


BLM proposed that a 10-mile “perimeter fence” be constructed to encompass Black Rock City’s 3,900-acre area. The agency suggested “hardened physical perimeter barriers” made of concrete that would “enhance site security, define the Event site, and prevent windblown trash from leaving the site.”

Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Source: Business Insider, Bureau of Land Management


It’s important to note that Burning Man already has a fence of sorts around its perimeter — an orange plastic fence designed only to keep trash from blowing away from Black Rock City and out into the desert. But BLM wrote that the fence isn’t effective to act as a physical barricade keeping unauthorised attendees out.

Business Insider/Aly Weisman

Source: Bureau of Land Management


The proposal went further to also call for a contracted fleet of private security at all entrance points to screen anyone coming into the area. The wall and security would all be paid for by Burning Man organisers, BLM wrote in its proposal.

Getty Images

Source: Bureau of Land Management


Burning Man organisers quickly fought against BLM’s suggestions, who said the proposed changes were in “direct conflict with our community’s core principles,” and threatened to “forever negatively change the fabric of the Burning Man event, if not outright kill it.”

Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


Additionally, the Burning Man Project estimated that the proposed wall and security would amount to nearly $US20 million in added costs a year. Since organisers would be on the hook for funding the changes, the proposal could increase ticket prices — which start as low as $US210 for low-income attendees — as much as $US300 each.

Aly Weisman/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


But in the end, the BLM decided to issue Burning Man a one-year permit for 2019. The permit allows the festival to operate with the same population capacity — 80,000 people — and same conditions as the 2018 festival, with no major changes taking place.

REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Source: Bureau of Land Management


“The BLM and the Burning Man Project are committed to working together during the 2019 event to improve event security and safety,” BLM told Business Insider. “For the 2019 event, there will be no significant changes in the BLM’s approach to event security.”

Business Insider/Aly Weisman

BLM decided to only issue a one-year permit to organisers, because of the festival’s past “noncompliances” and “unsatisfactory performance” in 2018, especially pertaining to the amount of trash left behind.

REUTERS/ Jim Urquhart

Source: Bureau of Land Management


One of Burning Man’s main principles is “Leaving No Trace,” and the festival has an organised trash-cleaning procession, and dedicated team, for the days following the event. However, leaving trash has been a major issues in years past, with attendees illegally dumping trash in surround days following the event.

Aly Weisman/Business Insider

Sources: Business Insider, SF Gate


In order to secure a permit in the future — and ultimately, the 10-year permit organisers want — Burning Man must be compliant this year. In a blog post last week, Burning Man organisers acknowledged there was “more work to be done” in 2020 and beyond, and would figure out whether BLM’s requests for the future are “legally, financially, operationally, and/or culturally feasible.”

Business Insider/Aly Weisman

Sources: Bureau of Land Management, Burning Man Project

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