The land, our values and finances.
Fly Ranch is a roughly 3,800-acre parcel of land that features 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. It is truly an oasis in the desert.
This project is an evolving one. What is important is not just what we do with the space, but how we choose to go about it. We have started identifying the project values that will drive our actions. We’re wholly donation-funded and to make the future of this project a reality, we will need to raise money to cover programming, projects, insurance, taxes and staffing.
Fly Ranch is a roughly 3,800-acre parcel of land located 21 miles north of Gerlach, Nevada. 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 enabling the growth of multi-colored algae on the terraces surrounding it. The Fly Ranch property is truly an oasis in the desert.
The geyser itself is not entirely naturally occurring. It’s the result of drilling done in 1964 in search of sources of geothermal energy. The well was likely not capped properly, which created the geyser. And why is it called “Fly” Ranch? The name is believed to be in reference to flight. According to local lore, in the 1930s there was a biplane training facility on the property.
Our own community’s history is intrinsically linked to that of Fly Ranch—we’ve been watering Black Rock City’s roads with geyser water for decades. The 1997 event was held on this property. Fly Ranch’s history is Burning Man’s history.
Just to get this out of the way: Black Rock City will not relocate to Fly Ranch. The property is not suitable for the size and scope of Black Rock City as we now know it. The potential of the Fly Ranch Project is strongest during the other 51 weeks of the year, when the inspiration of Burning Man is searching for a foothold in what was once called the “default world”.
Because how we do our work is just as important as what we are doing, we have to be very considerate about why we make the decisions that we do. These decisions are guided of course by the 10 Principles of Burning Man, but the new context of a property that we own, with water, neighbors, plants, and animals has inspired additional values to drive our work.
We will emphasize Communal Effort in our work, inclusion in our process, Civic Responsibility in our resource management and restoration, Decommodification of the land and project, and we will, of course, Leave No Trace. In limited ways we can emphasize Radical Self-Reliance during visits to the site, Radical Self-Expression in our projects, Gifting in our interactions, and Immediacy when we’re there. But beyond these cornerstones of Burning Man culture, we have been discovering other values that are critical to our work. Through every phase of this long term project, we hope to:
- Build a meaningful, collaborative process for community engagement. Inclusion is a key to success and fundamental to project development.
- Operate a transparent project that promotes an environment of trust, rich in shared information, embracing open source whenever possible.
- Operate sustainably and in shared interest with the land. Help restore ecological balance to human activity on the land.
- Develop a values-based operating structure to move forward efficiently and with confidence.
- Create relationships with existing and new political, civic, artistic, and philanthropic individuals and groups and explore both how Fly Ranch can support existing Burning Man communities and programs as well as new ones.
Fly Ranch is also an opportunity to examine the 10 Principles in a new context. How does permanent infrastructure align with Leaving No Trace? Could we support the project through Gifting alone? How do we create financial sustainability while holding onto Decommodification? How can we be radically inclusive on a property with a finite capacity for sustainable activity?
Inevitably, there will be differing and sometimes incompatible views. We would like to identify early on the fault lines within the community, staff, local residents, and board members. Will some want to build while others will want no permanent structures? Will some want to charge money while others will not? Once we have a sense of the divisions it will give us a sense of in what areas will require the most conversation as we consider the multitude of issues we will face throughout this project.
Every step we take or dollar we spend is an opportunity to build and strengthen our relationships in the area surrounding Fly Ranch. Burning Man has owned land in the area since 2001 and is used to being a neighbor and a participating member of the local community.
We look forward to deepening our relationships with Empire, Gerlach, the Paiute Tribe and local property owners. We already have members of our staff contributing to the Gerlach/Empire Citizen Advisory Board, the Gerlach economic development committee, the Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department and the Gerlach General Improvement District, where we discuss our ongoing work in the area. Burning Man co-founder and Gerlach resident Will Roger is vice president of the board of the Friends of the Black Rock High Rock conservation group, and vice-chair of the BLM Black Rock Desert Sub Resource Advisory Committee. We have met with the company that recently purchased the town of Empire.
While Black Rock City has an enormous positive economic impact on Northern Nevada that is concentrated in late summer, activity at Fly Ranch would create an even greater economic benefit that extends year-round. On average, people spend roughly $581 on a four-day trip to the Gerlach area with lodging, food, and entertainment. Not everyone will stay that long in the area, so let’s be safe and say each person spends $100 per trip. At 50 people per week, that’s an additional $260K per year for the area. Not bad.
Local residents have been enjoying Fly Ranch and the geyser for decades. Some are excited for the potential for sustained economic benefit that our project may bring while others are worried about impact on local infrastructure, environment, or culture. Working closely with with all of the local communities early and with clear messaging about our intentions, and with an open channel for future communication, is key. We’ll engage people who sign up for “local community engagement” to assist us with these efforts.
Burning Man Project purchased Fly Ranch for the price of $6.5 million. The funding came from Burners who have been deeply affected by the spirit and principles of Burning Man, and felt called to give back to the community by enabling us to explore the potential of having a year-round home.
All of the donors contributed in the true spirit of Burning Man: in celebration of our gifting principle, there is no quid pro quo, and their gift is to the entire community.
One of our biggest challenges moving forward will be maintaining financial sustainability for Fly Ranch. Some ideas for revenue generation that have come up are:
- Use of the land. Groups could come to the space for events, retreats or visits.
- Recurring gifts and philanthropic support.
- Generating and selling sustainable power.
- Burner cemetery. People could put us in their wills and spend eternity with us!
Suppose that we we were able to get 100K people to give $10 a year or 10K people to give $100 a year that would be $1M. That’s unlikely, but could certainly support a staff and budget. This is one way Green Gulch, Change.org, Water.org, and other mission-driven organizations support themselves. Is it possible that we as a team of two on a new project could raise sufficient funds through the community, website, and donors? We can’t know unless we test it.
What we do know is that this project will be built on trust, and funded on trust as well. To authentically garner support for both small projects and the large ones, people will need to feel connected to the vision of Fly Ranch and included in the process. If you feel inspired to support the Fly Ranch project you can donate and help us reach the next phase of this project.