by Will Roger, DPW Manager
On October 21st, 1998, Mike Bilbo, of the Bureau of Land Management, signed the Special Recreation Permit Performance Evaluation form officially ending the clean up of Black Rock City. His observation was that the site was in relatively good shape and noted areas that needed further attention. In the next few weeks a small crew continued to clean the site and completed operations to Burning Man standards until November 5th, 1998.
What Was Left Behind:
Most of Black Rock City was left in good shape. Certain camps were major offenders and seemed to leave more than they brought. Some difficult things to clean up were the medical waste in flimsy garbage bags, human waste in garbage bags, and the areas around the main stage, cafe, commissary, DPW, Disturbia, Tower Camp and Space Station Zebra. The obvious trend here is that areas of high general public use fall outside individual responsibility. Plastic containers, aluminum cans and glass bottles were the major bulk of the trash. Many rugs, assorted furniture, and construction materials were left. Hundreds of burn piles were left and are the single most time consuming clean up challenge.
Method of Clean Up:
First, all rotting, decomposing garbage is bagged and carried or trucked to rented debris boxes stationed at the entrance. Next, we concentrate on separating valuable materials from junk. Valuables are loaded on trucks and trailers and removed to the DPW Depot for storage. Junk is put in the debris boxes. Any burnable debris and junk is burned on site. Local ranchers are allow to take the remaining straw bails.
Once all the major surface garbage is removed burn piles are grouped as much as possible using shovels, rakes and the shovel on a Bob-Cat tractor. Burn areas contain charcoal, metal hardware, broken glass and other debris. The surface of the burn areas are scraped and shoveled into trailers for removal to the debris boxes. Iron based metal (nails, screws, etc.) were picked up with magnets and removed. Broken glass and other remains, left after scraping, must be picked up by hand.
The last task is to remove the ruts caused by driving on the wet playa and holes dug by participants. A local rancher was hired to run his tractor pulling a drag that effectively broke up the playa surface, filling and smoothing the ruts and holes. This new method worked very well.
The Trash Fence:
The trash fence proved to be highly effective in keeping wind blown trash contained. We cleaned it of trash several time during and after the event. Because of its effectiveness we did not take it down until close to the end of clean up when the possibility of wind blown trash was finally minimal.
Off Site Clean Up:
Off site clean up consisted of crews of two with trucks and trailers collecting any garbage and debris whether burning man related or not. Areas covered: Trego Hot Springs, Routes 34, and 447, the “shore line” around Black Rock City and the towns of Gerlach and Empire.
The weather certainly made the clean up much more of a challenge in every way. Often, survival became the paramount effort and travel on the playa was reduced to walking in the mud. The “Leave No Trace, Pack It Out” policy did work. This year (98) we needed only eight, thirty yard debris boxes compared to twelve last year (97). With more education in this very important area I believe that more people will pack out more garbage.