By Ken Ritter
PIOCHE — A rural Nevada county approved strict guidelines Tuesday for a pair of festivals later this month in a desolate desert area well-known by UFO and alien hunters.
Lincoln County commissioners took the action amid concern about the possibility of unmanageable crowds attracted by an internet hoax dubbed “Storm Area 51” involving the nearby military installation that has been the focus of UFO conspiracy theories.
The plan adopted by the commission involves a music festival for 5,000 people in tiny Hiko, and projections by Connie West, owner of the Little A’le’Inn motel in Rachel for as many as 10,000 people camping on her property for another event in the town closest to Area 51.
Event organizers said there needs to be food, water and entertainment on hand to help people survive in the desert that’s a nearly three-hour drive from Las Vegas. Most conceded that cellphone service could be overwhelmed.
“We’ll give people something to do so they don’t run amok,” said George Harris, who plans to repurpose his Alien Research Center gift shop into a music venue off a road dubbed Extraterrestrial Highway.
West said she has 700 camping reservations so far, and will allow eight people per campsite. She also plans to collect parking fees to pay for security and medical personnel, and turn away people who bring guns or drugs to her event dubbed “Alienstock.”
“I’m elated and shaking inside,” West told reporters outside Lincoln County Courthouse. “It’s all laying on my shoulders because someone said, ‘Hey, meet me in Rachel.’ Now it’s realer than ever.”
Commissioners and neighbors said they didn’t really want the events or the attention the internet hoax has drawn to the county of 5,200 residents in an area the size of Massachusetts.
“We don’t want to see our desert trashed,” resident Desma Auclair said.
Joerg Arnu, a Rachel resident, said he was unhappy to learn a helicopter pad is planned near his home.
Harris and Keith Wright, producer of the musical event slated for Hiko, said they have planned carefully and do not want people to trespass on Area 51.
On Tuesday, they presented aerial photos of the site and said they’ll announce performers in coming days.
Wright said portable toilets, water, food, trash bins and security staff would all be trucked in.
“The biggest thing is, people just have to be respectful and everyone will have a good time,” Commissioner Bevan Lister said about plans for the Sept. 20-22 events.
Lincoln and neighboring Nye counties have both prepared emergency declarations to seek state help if needed.
Last week, the Nye County Commission denied a permit for an event there that organizers had dubbed “Peacestock 51.”
Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee said Tuesday that more than 150 law enforcement officers would be available during the events. He said Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak promised Nevada Guard units for logistical help.
Lee and county Commissioner Varlin Higbee said people would be arrested if they approached the gates of Area 51.
“It could be ugly or it could be decent,” Commissioner Keith Pearson concluded.