RENO — Burning Man organizers are seeking permission for as many as 100,000 people to attend the annual counter-culture festival in future years.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management currently caps attendance at the annual event in the Black Rock Desert north of Reno at 68,000.
Burning Man officials are proposing their new special use permit be expanded to allow at least 80,000 participants and eventually as many as 100,000, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported. The proposed cap would rise incrementally over a number of years.
The BLM currently is reviewing the criteria used to set the attendance cap and other guidelines that regulate the festival so as to minimize environmental and other impacts on the high desert and surrounding communities.
The agency intends to issue a rough draft of the new conditions in about a year with a final draft scheduled to be released for public comment in early 2019.
A number of critics expressed concern to BLM officials about any expansion of the event during public meetings this past week in Reno, Lovelock and Gerlach — the small town that borders the festival site about 110 miles.
"I'm just concerned because, when I moved here 45 years ago, (the Black Rock Desert) was just the most remote, least visited area. That area was so full of solitude, it was a wilderness with a small 'w'," said Karen Boeger, a concerned conservationist from Reno.
Gerlach residents wanted issues resolved with traffic and trash along Nevada State Route 447 before an expansion. They also expressed concerns about Burning Man's use of the town's local water supply.
Reno residents were more curious about the timeline, and how else the event would change, whereas Lovelock residents fretted over the limited resources that they lend to Burning Man, particularly law enforcement and court services.
"There's a lack of benefit for the community in Pershing County. While (Burning Man organizers) noted that they bring $50 million to the state, Pershing County sees not even half of a percent of that," said Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen.
In addition to raising the attendance cap, organizers are asking to increase by more than 500 acres the area closed off before, during and after the event to about 22.5 square miles.
Organizers would also expect to see an increase in the number of art pieces, closer to 400 compared to the 330 featured this year. They also want to allow nearly 2,000 theme camps, compared to the 1,100 this past year, and closer to 1,000 mutant art vehicles compared to 600 since 2009.
Burning Man began in 1986 in the San Francisco Bay Area with no more than a few dozen locals and moved four years later to the Black Rock Desert, where a few hundred people attended initially. In 1991, the BLM issued its first permit for the event and began monitoring the safety, security and health practices on-site.