RENO, Nev. (AP) - A plan to move the annual Burning Man counterculture festival closer to the heart of the Black Rock Desert has angered some desert users and local residents. Land windsurfers, history buffs and others fear the new site would block access and threaten historic covered-wagon trails.
''I'm very much opposed to the new site and everybody else out here is, too,'' said John Bogard, owner of Planet X Pottery near Gerlach.
About 28,000 free spirits from all 50 states are expected to converge on the desert the week before Labor Day for the celebration known for art, dancing, concerts, nudity and drugs. Organizers bill it as the ultimate celebration of free expression.
They want to move the event from the southern tip of the desert near tiny Gerlach to a point 12 miles north of the remote town. The desert, one of the biggest flat spots on Earth, is located 120 miles north of Reno.
''They're going to make it so no one else can use that area,'' Bogard said. ''If this thing goes through, I'll proceed with the Environmental Protection Agency and close the desert down.''
The Bureau of Land Management is holding public meetings this week on organizers' request. Tuesday's hearing in Reno will be followed by others Wednesday in Gerlach and Thursday in Lovelock.
Organizers maintain the new site would allow for improved crowd perimeter control, better drainage in the event of rain and improved traffic flow. It also would be farther away from the Union Pacific railroad tracks and Nobles Emigrant Trail, they said.
Bogard, who joins about 100 other land sailors for annual summer races on the desert, urged the BLM to keep the site two miles north of Gerlach.
He said the festival's use of the new site would create a dust hazard, cause permanent scars on the desert and prevent other activities in the area.
''We (land sailors) go through the site and accidents can happen if they leave debris on the desert,'' Bogard said. ''The dust in itself from the event becomes a hazard for anyone else on the desert at that time.
''Where they are now, no one goes into that area. They just have to put a fenceline in there and hire guards to keep people off the railroad tracks.''
Chuck Dodd of the Oregon-California Trails Association said the new site would be closer to actual historic trail remnants.
''I'd like them to stay where they were last year,'' he said, adding he fears use of the new site would block other users.
Susan Lynn of Friends of the Black Rock Desert also favors the current site.
''The new site is near the heart of the desert,'' she said. ''It's smack dab in the middle of all transportation routes and I think that presents a problem for others who want to go out there.''
Burning Man spokeswoman Marian Goodell defended the new site, insisting it would not interfere with other users.
The new site would be much safer because it's farther away from the railroad tracks and will be encircled by fences, she added.
''We intend to quiet their (critics') fears,'' she said. ''We've always solved things the public has asked us to do.
''We're open to the needs of other recreational users and have no intentions of using the desert in a way that would prohibit them in any way.''