The 2006 work season was another strong year for the Department of Public Works (DPW). Strong work weekends pre-season, and the three main phases of operations – Set Up, Tear Down, and Playa Restoration – all showed solid growth and improvement.

The DPW is a unique beast in that its character changes from year to year as crew members come and go. The high percentage of first-time volunteers in 2005 enhanced the energy and improved morale throughout the work season, so a deliberate effort was made to bring even more fresh blood into the mix in 2006. As a result, over a third of the 2006 DPW crew was new to DPW (including 10 who had never been to the event before). This crew turned out to be outstanding, and it was fantastic to see newcomers really shine and bring fresh eyes and ideas to what DPW does.

One aspect of the DPW that contrasts with many volunteer departments is that DPW is overflowing with people willing to help. More than 400 people contacted DPW over the course of 2006 to sign up, and DPW invited 200 to join set up – a larger DPW than ever before. In addition, the role of DPW volunteer coordinator was expanded into a Volunteer Team with 2 new roles: a Work Weekend Volunteer Coordinator to organize all the crew for Ranch Projects during the off season, and a Showtime Volunteer Coordinator to assist during the main work season. Having a team wrangling the crew really proved worthwhile, and allowed DPW to spread resources where they were most needed without losing focus on the big picture.

As usual, the Work Weekends gave DPW a good start on the year, and work on much-needed, labor-heavy projects before the main work season began. Over the 8 Work Weekends held between March and August, more than 100 volunteers came out to lend a hand – a really fantastic turn out.

In August, as the main work season started, the DPW crew once again stayed in Gerlach. Aside from a housing crunch due to the added crew, things went as smoothly as ever. Some massive improvements to the Black Rock Saloon (DPW’s Social club / break room / relaxation area in Gerlach) kept morale high, and new internet stations there allowed more of us to keep in touch with the outside world, and stay grounded.

Once the season began, most of the projects followed the same labor model as last year, with the notable exception being the merging of the First Camp and Arctica Crews into a single team called FISTICA that allowed DPW to swap out workers quickly when each of the projects needed.

The most significant change this year was the new, improved, and more powerful than ever DPW GHETTO. After the big strides made with the 2005 camp, DPW pushed forward and gave the Ghetto a project manager, a project budget, and placement at 4:20 and Anxious, a fitting name for this big, experimental, forward step. The project manager cranked out a Ghetto design that included a stage, community space, and a large semi-private back area for DPW crew to get away from the city when they needed. The cherry on top was a new bar, painted DPW black, right up front for anyone who wanted to drop by and have a drink with the DPW crew. The Ghetto was in place as soon as the crew moved on site, and someone realized that not only was the DPW Ghetto bar the first bar on-site, but would be one of the last things to come down. With that, the name First And Last Chance Saloon was born. Many long nights before, during, and after the event the bar was broken in, making the Ghetto feel more and more like home. Having dedicated space that was private, public, and right up front with the action was amazing and DPW was more cohesive during the event than ever before.

Following the event, the DPW crew was also able to assist Burners Without Borders with their wood collection efforts, wrangling what was salvageable and fueling fires with what wasn’t.

In 2005 Playa Restoration had a crew operation in place that worked very well, so the same operation was used in 2006. As with the main work season, 2006 saw the highest number ever of folks on board for clean up. That meant more eyes and hands on the line sweeps, more Special Forces teams dealing with hot spots, and enough input to create the first comprehensive MOOP Map of the city, showing where traces had, in fact, been left.

There were some drawbacks to having an expanded Playa Restoration crew, however. Extra folks meant extra food and housing and Saloon resources extending much later in the year than ever before. It was a good experiment, but in 2007, there will be a cap on the Playa Restoration crew size, to keep things manageable (who would have thought that cleaning up the party until the bitter end would turn out to be so popular?).

After one more meal at the Black Rock and another surprising, revealing, and occasionally scarring talent show, everyone packed it up and headed home. 2006 was one more fantastic notch in the belt of the DPW, and a year to be really proud of.