Earth Guardians

The 2005 theme for Earth Guardians was the past and the future. It began with reflection on the daily life of emigrants passing through the Black Rock in the 1800s and extended to welcoming new Earth Guardians to camping and restoration activities in Black Rock. New technologies developed by long–term participants helped everyone to address tough Leave No Trace (LNT) issues like removal and treatment of grey water. New members of the Burning Man community still need education on these basic principles and practices.

LNT “Train the Trainer” Annual Backpacking Trip

This year’s trip moved up north to beautiful Fly Canyon. This location allowed attendees to explore an even more pristine area of Black Rock and use the lush Soldier Meadows Ranch as a staging area. The trip started with a hearty breakfast at the ranch and finished with snacks and beverages under its shady trees. Highlights of this year’s trip included hiking into the narrow canyon, sharing an awesome dinner and campfire, hearing each others’ stories, viewing historic rock glyphs, and drinking frothy beverages on the green lawn of Soldier Meadows Ranch.

This annual backpacking trip has been an awesome way to meet participants from many different volunteer groups and theme camps at Burning Man and introduce them to the application of LNT principles apply to the event. The youngest new Earth Guardian (1 year old Jai) into the training indicated a continuing need to make the trip more comfortable, in hopes that more participants will participate. Suggestions are welcome for other ways (short workshops, etc.) that would be useful to Burning Man volunteers and participants learning LNT techniques. Send email to

Emigrants on the Playa

For the last couple of years, Earth Guardians have partnered with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to explore different themes for outreach to the residents of Black Rock City. In 2004, a new interpretive exhibit in the Earth Guardian pavilion focused on the National Wilderness Preservation System and the celebration of the Wilderness Act’s 40th Anniversary. For 2005, attention shifted to the National Historic Trails that form the backbone of many of the wilderness areas in the surrounding Black Rock/High Rock National Conservation Area. (NCA). The exhibit’s main focus was on the Applegate/Lassen Trail ( part of the California Trail) and the Nobel’s Trail Cutoff. The camp included tents in the style of the 1850s and 1860s along with an authentic period covered wagon to illustrate a realistic emigrant camp. BLM staff and volunteers dressed in period costume and became living history presenters with period props. Burning Man participants had fun talking with the emigrants who ‘wandered’ into the city on their way out west. The large tent at the back of the camp included interpretive panels to educate and inform visitors about the history and significance of the National Historic Trails in the region and build awareness of the National Historic Trails Program.

LNT Outreach

Earth Guardians focus on emerging issues that could impact the playa or the BRC community and develop LNT practices to reduce impacts. Volunteer teams include groups focused on theme camp and art LNT, restoration of sensitive areas around the playa, outdoor education, and monitors for hot springs and burn platforms. Communication specialists work on LNT messages that go out to the larger Burning Man community via email, web, public service announcements broadcast on Burning Man Information Radio, and video (LNTV). During the event, Earth Guardians talk with participants to get direct feedback on how well LNT messages reach the intended audience. A huge influx of young participants in 2005 will affect plans for the future, especially after noticing that many basic LNT ground rules are unknown to many newbies. Younger people have a different approach to looking at websites and may not be accessing a lot of the information associated with LNT at Burning Man.

Earth Guardians have recommended that important messages in the Survival Guide be fully incorporated into the larger Burning Man website, especially in proximity to pages that get the most hits. Earth Guardians are also working on revamping the content on the team’s subdomain Redesigned pages will increase their appeal to young participants, with the addition of streaming video (LNTV). Efforts much continue to make sure the messages that newbies need to hear each year (e.g. “if it’s not coming out of my body, it doesn’t go into the potty”) are hit by the Greeters, BMIR, and in beautiful, engaging art/signage at the event). Reinvigorated EG crusaders will reach out for more face to face contact in 2006.

LNT Outreach and Activities at Burning Man

Theme Camps

Earth Guardians work to gather and disseminate information about successful LNT practices and technologies adapted to the specialized conditions of the playa and Burning Man. The Best LNT Camps tour featured both simple and complex examples of grey water and trash management systems, camp kitchens, reusable structures, and camp showers. The 14 participating camps all shared their plans and designs for the Earth Guardian library. The LNT tour camps and other nominated camps were entered in the Camp of the Day contest, which awards two tickets to Burning Man and recognition in the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the EG web pages. The 2005 Camp of the Day winners were Nose Fish, Iron Rose, Swingers Lounge, Bad Idea Theater, and Astral Headwash.

With changes in staff of 2005, the effort of Earth Guardian crusaders took a backseat, reducing contacts with specific camps to respond to LNT problem areas. The general protocol for these contacts begins with connections with theme camp placers before approaching problem LNT camps. The crusaders could follow up with each camp needing additional assistance throughout the week. Perhaps participation in a few placer meetings early in the event week will facilitate and coordinate communication with the camps during the event. On-site LNT outreach will benefit from a better connection with the theme camps during Burning Man in 2006.

Burn Platforms

This year’s hardworking burn platform volunteer crew found that most participants had gotten the message to burn only wood and paper. Some platforms had issues with overloading due to the large volume of wood being burned on Sunday. One response to this concern would be building more burn platforms, however more effective way in the long run would increase emphasis on the message of reuse, recycling, and repurposing wood for theme camp structures. In the wake of natural disasters like Katrina, more and more participants are dismayed by the large amounts of new, barely used wood being burned after the event simply because participants don’t want to take home, store, and repurpose wood. These messages will receive expanded and increased emphasis in 2006.

Other Activities at Burning Man

Once again, Earth Guardian camp hosted daily yoga, morning nature hikes, a few afternoon staff meetings, and evening happy hours. Nature and art talks explored interests with Burning Man participants in these areas. These activities were planned to bring residents of Black Rock City into the Earth Guardian pavilion, where they could learn about LNT principles, and to support and reward volunteers for their efforts. The emigrant camp incorporated special events, such as stories of the trail, a kids’ program to hear about real-life experiences of the emigrants, and an evening of authentic food and music with the emigrants. Guests also enjoyed wonderful butter and corn bread while thanks to the skilled pioneer visitors.

Desert Stewardship

Earth Guardians continued in 2005 to leave positive traces on the playa though stewardship activities. Participants visit the Black Rock Desert both during and outside of the Burning Man event to introduce them to the beauty of the area and to participate in stewardship and education activities. In addition to cleanup and restoration activities during the nature hikes hosted at Burning Man, Earth Guardian volunteers participated in events with BLM and Friends of Black Rock throughout the year. In the spring, crews assisted with road restoration in the Calicoes and hot springs restoration at Soldier Meadows. In the early summer, members participated in a glyph hunting hike with the Nevada Rock Art Society. In the fall, groups celebrated Public Lands Day by assisting in development of a new campgrounds, documenting an archeological site, and investigating potential rock glyphs with a BLM archeologist. Many Burning Man participants are active in groups such as Friends of Black Rock and other groups supporting environmental activities in Black Rock.

Ideas for 2006

Earth Guardians would like to continue promoting environmental stewardship and environmentalism in 2006. The group’s mission is to educate participants about how to leave no trace at Burning Man and to promote an appreciation and conservation of the surrounding natural environment, so they want to leave only positive traces. In addition to the reinvention of the EG website mentioned earlier, new efforts will look at creating a new Black Rock Interpretive walk that includes a timeline of the ‘greening’ of Burning Man and highlights different departments’ proactive, eco-friendly changes in operations. Efforts outside the event will also receive attention (e.g., participation in Public Lands Day, Friends of Black Rock, restoration of wilderness areas, and contributions to environmental education). Earth Guardians will work with folks from other departments to complete research and document the work, if funding is found for materials and printing. These projects may reach completion by the 2006 event.

The development of the new website is intended to facilitate sign-ups for volunteer shifts and activities and events at the Earth Guardian pavilion via an interactive calendar and form process. During the event, the annual party and daily events such as yoga and nature hikes will be enhanced by a Chocolate, Bacon, and Margarita Social for new volunteers.

Submitted by,
Karina O’Connor