Is Burning Man making a mistake at Fly Ranch?

Fly Geyser and surrounding wetlands – Source: flyranch.burningman.org

I’m torn. A part of me wants to travel this very minute to Fly Ranch and experience the scenic landscapes on this lovely site, while also visualizing the various art/sustainability projects taking place there. On the other hand, the site is so beautiful, it seems it might be a better decision to just leave it alone.

Fly Ranch in relation to Black Rock City – Source: flyranch.burningman.org

For those who are unaware, Fly Ranch was acquired by the Burning Man Project several years back. The 3,800 acre tract is located 15 minutes north of Black Rock City (site of the annual Burning Man event) and appears to be very much a Garden of Eden set amid the high desert of northwest Nevada. The website describes it as follows:

“The property has 640 acres of wetlands, dozens of natural spring-water pools ranging in temperature from hot to cold, sagebrush-grasslands, and a small area of playa that opens onto the Hualapai Flat. The land’s most prominent feature is the stunning Fly Geyser, a unique and iconic geothermal geyser that constantly releases water reaching five feet in the air, depositing minerals and multi-colored algae on the terraces surrounding it. The Fly Ranch property is truly an oasis in the desert.”

Source: flyranch.burningman.org/we-bought-fly-ranch/

Granted, much of the tract (nearly 3,000 acres) is intended to be left alone, even when establishing Land Art of the 21st Century. That is a very good thing that should be applauded, as should the climate, energy, and sustainability goals. But, that doesn’t mean that the scenic vistas aren’t going to be forever altered by the intrusion of humanity, nor does it mean there won’t be added pressures from ecotourism, as well as increased noise and pollution associated with continuous human interaction.

Plan for Fly Ranch – Source: landartgenerator.org/lagi2020/LAGI2020-DesignGuidelines.pdf

The website notes that over 700 public nature walks have been conducted to date. Potentially negative impacts invariably come with increased human activity, but unlike the week-long Burning Man event, you can’t “leave no trace behind” when the site is being occupied and operated on a year-round basis.

“One only need look at Mount Rushmore for guidance on what can happen when monumental art is thrust upon a scenic location, regardless of good intentions.”

Source: panethos.wordpress.com

Furthermore, even if this site remained largely unaltered, what takes place on any private lands around its periphery is much less certain, especially once Fly Ranch becomes better known in the public realm. As is so succinctly stated in the film Field of Dreams; “If you build it, they will come” and as all of us planners know;”If you don’t own it, you don’t control it.”

Proposed Solar Mountain at Fly Ranch as part of the “Renewable Energy Can Be Beautiful” theme – Source: sun-projects.nl

So, why mess with such innate beauty? Why risk harming the very things that humans (including the Burning Man Project) seek to portray through their artistry and/or to save through sustainability?Aren’t there plenty of unused fallow farm fields, empty parking lots, abandoned cities, and brownfield sites across this country that could be repurposed for such an exciting utopian endeavor that don’t risk adverse human impacts onto pristine landscapes? In addition, wouldn’t locating this endeavor in a more accessible location allow it to involve and educate even more people?

“If inclusion, participation, immediacy, community, and civic responsibility are such critical aspects of the Burning Man ethos, shouldn’t a place that is more accessible to all be a primary consideration?”

Source: panethos.wordpress.com
Proposed Cacti project as part of the “Renewable Energy Can Be Beautiful” theme – Source: landartgenerator.org/LAGI-2020/cacti/

Proposed Solution(s)

How about just returning the land to the indigenous people who were there first (the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone) at no cost and then find a more suitable/inclusive place for this impressive and enormous project? Such a step would constitute the ultimate gifting of something tangible and real in the best tradition and principles of Burning Man. It would also be a gigantic leap towards initiating an “ethical, cultural revolution” championed by Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey. Besides, our Native American neighbors were experts at sustainability long before post-Columbian colonists, settlers, and pioneers arrived to muck it up. Who better to entrust this place of serene beauty for all eternity?

If the idea of gifting Fly Ranch to the indigenous people of the area cannot be achieved due to some unknown cause or circumstances, then perhaps a middle-ground alternative would be to assure inclusion of multiple representatives of the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone in key roles within the consensus-making community at Fly Ranch.

Please feel free to provide your thoughts and comments on the issues raised in this post. Peace!

SOURCES:

Baba Yaga’s House artwork currently on display at Fly Ranch – Source:landartgenerator.org/lagi2020/LAGI2020-DesignGuidelines.pdf
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