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Burning Man Blues: Is The Great Desert Festival Finally “Over”?

Burning Man Blues: Is The Great Desert Festival Finally “Over”?
Meg Butler

While a lot of readers come to FlyerTalk to discuss rewards and redemptions or find premium fare deals, the forums are more than just miles and travel hacks. There are, for example, quite a few Burners on the site sharing info on everything from shots of the 747 that landed there to guides on What to Pack for Burning Man. Or, rather, there were. Burning Man threads were more common a few years ago, when Burning Man was still Burning Man and not a desert festival under increasing scrutinized for being corporatized and Instagramized.

And now there’s more drama going on with Burning Man than ever. For some reason, it’s not clear in the reporting (feel free to drop a note in the comments if you’re a FlyerTalker who knows more on this story), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the festival are at increasing loggerheads.

The Wall

First, back in April, The Bureau of Land Management (which manages the Black Rock Desert on which Burning Man is held) proposed to build a 10-mile concrete wall around the festival⁠—and make Burning Man pay for it. The wall would also include a fleet of private security (also to be paid for by Burning Man) to screen those coming in and out of the event.

Estimates are that those changes would cost The Burning Man Project roughly $20 million per year and increase ticket prices to up to $300 per person.

Says Nevada’s BLM, the “perimeter fence” would “enhance site security, define the Event site, and prevent windblown trash from leaving the site.” These new restrictions are ostensibly based off the Bureau of Land Management’s review of the potential “environmental, social, and economic consequences” of Burning Man on the Nevada desert which has been held every year since the 1990s.

However, fans and organizers of Burning Man pointed to the festival’s “Leaving No Trace” principle which compels all Burners to clean up trash or anything left behind that doesn’t belong there. Furthermore, they assert, after Burning Man is over, a dedicated Playa Restoration Team is formed to carefully sweep the area of Burning Man for any leftover trash left behind.

The Drug Screenings

Now, just two months after news of the proposed wall, The fight between the Bureau of Land Management and Burning Man has escalated again. This time, the news is that the BLM wants to use the recommended private security force to “screen” Burners for drugs and weapons before they enter the event in 2019 (or 2020, it doesn’t seem like they’ve decided quite yet). If you have ever been a Burner, then it’s clear that that will be a problem for many of the festival’s participants.

In public meetings, Burners have called these suggested drug searches unconstitutional, and the threat of the BLM’s proposed restrictions as a threat to the future of Burning Man itself.


[Image Source: Flickr/Bureau of Land Management]

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