Burning Man Festival Gets OK to Expand

Higher peak attendance allowed under new four-year permit

Festival attendees congregate outside the Temple of Transition at Burning Man Festival.
Keith Carlsen For the Washington Post
July 29, 2013 9:55 AM ET

The Burning Man festival is already North America's biggest outdoor arts festival, and now the free-spirited Nevada event will be getting another boost: Burning Man organizers have landed a four-year special recreation permit from federal land managers that will allow for an even higher peak attendance.

The festival previously allowed a maximum population of 60,900 – peak numbers hit 56,000 last year – but the new permit has pushed the maximum attendance to 68,000, according to Billboard. Gene Seidlitz, manager of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Winnemucca District, said organizers must comply with 60 conditions relating to issues including security, resource management and clean-up, which will provide the necessarily protection for the festival's desert locale, as well as proper public safety. 

Photos: Burning Man 2012

"Our priorities in managing this permit continue to be the protection and conservation of natural and cultural resources, as well as the safety for all participants and staffs," Seidlitz said. "I feel confident the permit addresses these priorities."

Since its inception in San Francisco's Baker Beach, Burning Man has grown into the biggest permitted event on federal land in the United States. The festival, located about 100 miles north of Reno, Nevada, drew a mere 80 people in 1990, but brought in more than 1,000 people in 1993. By 1999, Burning Man expanded to 23,000, and the crowds were capped at 50,000 under a five-year permit that expired in 2010. Though Burning Man's new permit allows a maximum of 70,000, organizers only pursued a cap of 68,000 this year.

In 2011, Burning Man organizers were hit with a notice of non-compliance from the Bureau of Land Management for spilling over the 50,000 maximum attendance, as the festival reached 53,000 on two different days. Burning Man was placed on probation – a first since its move to Nevada – and festival organizers were warned that non-compliance in a second straight year could lead to a suspended or canceled permit.

Burning Man organizers are already making moves to accommodate a bigger gathering; Burning Man spokeswoman Megan Miller said the festival is sorting out its first shuttle bus service for the event. This year's Burning Man is set for August 26th to September 2nd.

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