Burners build an art project during a dust storm on the Black Rock Playa.
Burners build an art project during a dust storm on the Black Rock Playa.
Burning Man updated Pershing County officials on this year’s festival. After a two-year hiatus due to COVID, the theme is “Waking Dreams”  for the event located again in the far northwest corner of the county from August 28 to September 5 not including weeks of setup and teardown.

BM Director of Government Affairs Marnee Benson said attendance will not reach 80,000 people to avoid any additional payments that Burning Man would owe Pershing County.

“The duration of the event as in years past is eight days,” she said. “Our population cap is 80,000 people and we will not exceed 79,999 otherwise we are going to owe you 60,000 more dollars so we are not going to let that other person in no matter how much they plead.”

Benson said 16 government agencies and about 54 people attended last month’s annual Cooperators’ Meeting including federal, tribal, state and county agencies. 

“I appreciate Sheriff Allen and his team for attending,” she said. “As we’ve seen over the last two years, there’s new folks at the agencies just as there are some new people within the Burning Man Project…Just as a reminder, we work with FAA because we have an airport, we work with BLM and state agencies on public health and safety, travel and transportation, different departments in the tribes as well as the Pyramid Lake Tribal Chair, you and Washoe County.”

During the meeting, a tabletop exercise reenacted a multi-agency response to a mock rain storm. Heavy rain can bring all vehicles to a halt due to thick mud on the Black Rock Playa.

“It was helpful to remind ourselves about the communication channels that happen during an incident like that and how we can coordinate internally on the playa but more importantly externally with outside agencies and with our communications channels,” Benson said.

Burning Man volunteers known as Black Rock Rangers will be stationed in Gerlach to assist the town with the heavy traffic and visitors headed to the playa for Burning Man, Benson said.

The 4th of Juplaya and “Everywhen” events are not related to Burning Man.

“We’re watching social media and we know there are gatherings planned for this summer outside the Burning Man event,” Benson said. “The 4th of Juplaya is dispersed camping that’s been going on for like 20 years and then there is a permanent event called the Everywhen that has a population cap of a thousand. BLM is permitting it on the southern portion of the playa.”

Sheriff Allen said the Everywhen organizers told BLM that they are going to keep the gathering below a thousand people and so they will not be submitting for a (county) permit.”

“I think they were reliant on BLM but BLM said, no, we are not counting people for you,” he said.  “They are still in negotiations for that part of it.”

Benson said her organization is also keeping tabs on groups that plan to gather during Burning Man but outside the official closure area permitted by BLM on the Black Rock Playa.

“We are keeping an eye on people planning to go out that way during our event which can become a concern for us,” she said. “We do know that BLM has been monitoring as well,” she said. “I’m really hoping to see you all out there again.”

Benson said she hopes to issue an invitation to the seniors of Pershing County.

“It’s our favorite tour of the year and we’re doing everything we can to make that possible.”

Commissioner Carol Shank inquired about artwork for Pershing County. Burning Man officials have mentioned this in the past but no permanent art installations have been made available.

“Artwork for Pershing County. My favorite topic! This has been on my mind since we first talked eight years ago when I took this role,” Benson said. “Burning Man is getting better at supporting  artists in their endeavors to place public art more permanently instead of taking it off the playa and either storing it or repurposing it. Now that I’m hearing this from you as a priority, perhaps we can redouble our efforts. I would love to make that happen.”

Shank reminded Benson that, unlike Reno, Pershing County and Lovelock do not have the funds or the expertise for a public art installation. Beenson suggested a grant may be available for the project and promised Shank that discussion of a local art installation will continue.

“Whatever you can do to help but we would like to see some artwork here,” Shank responded.

Sheriff Jerry Allen presented his updated Burning Man budget based on a Black Rock City population between 70,000 and 79,999 festival attendees. Allen must hire law enforcement officers from surrounding agencies to assist his own deputies during the massive event.

“Some of this is tentative depending on how the contract negotiations go between the county and the entities,” Allen told the board. “Of course, this is based on the 70,000 to 79,999 population, not to exceed 80,000. If that changes, the document will have to change as well.”