For nearly two decades, a three-mile-long dry lake bed southwest of downtown Boulder City has attracted thousands of campers and revelers over the Fourth of July weekend.
Illegal fireworks are shot off, massive amounts of booze are consumed, and sometimes emergency 911 calls are placed to the fire and police departments.
The El Dorado Valley dry lake bed will be closed to the public this year under a recently passed resolution by the Boulder City Council, a move that will affect nearly 3,000 Southern Nevada residents who traditionally have camped out on the vacant land.
From 5 p.m. July 3 to 5 p.m. July 5, no one will be allowed into the area west of U.S. Highway 95, about 12 miles southwest of Boulder City.
Council members said they took the action to protect the throngs from themselves while ensuring there are enough police officers and firefighters for the city’s annual Damboree celebration in Veterans Memorial Park.
City Manager David Fraser said it was only a matter of time before the city had to shut down the big party.
“We had to do something about it,” he said. “I don’t think people realize that this is city land we’re talking about. It’s not some federal park or state park, and yet people tend to act like it is.”
Technically, the land, known for its dust devils in the spring and ATV fun in the fall, is operated by Boulder City’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Permits are required to spend the night or sell food, both of which are common over the Fourth of July weekend, Fraser said.
For years, Nevada’s biggest city by footprint at 207 square miles simply looked the other way. But the event grew so much that it reached critical mass in the eyes of Police Chief Bill Conger and Fire Chief Scott Nicholson, who led the effort to shut it down.
Conger, pleased with the council’s decision, called the gathering an “unstructured event” that has become more precarious over time.
He said he planned on posting a pair of police officers on the land’s periphery just to make sure that the closure is heeded, but even then he couldn’t promise around-the-clock vigilance because of the size of the city’s own party.
“We’re just lucky nothing has happened up until now,” Conger said. “The last thing we want is somebody tipping something over or somebody drinking, then shooting some high-explosive fireworks straight into a crowd.”
And let’s not forget the annual cleanup in its aftermath, said Scott Hansen, director of public works.
“We’re talking about filling several semi-load dumpsters and an entire day’s work by my crew,” Hansen said. “Beer bottles, beer cans, things thrown into fires, remnants of fires, any conceivable trash you can think of — that’s the result of some big party.”
Hansen said he believes most partyers are from Southern Nevada, folks who want to escape Las Vegas for a few days and kick it on the land.
“But anytime you have this big a group, you’re going to have injuries and you’re going to have people partying,” said Hansen. “And it’s tough, being 12 miles from town. We’ve got a lot going on that day, too. There’s a parade in the morning, live music at night, and lots of events throughout the day.”
Fraser said it was important for people to know that the dry lake bed will be closed so that they don’t travel from afar only to wind up at a shuttered piece of city property.