RENO, NV - Starting this week about 15,000 people will travel through the Reno-Sparks International Airport as they make their way to the annual Burning Man Festival. The festival, which attracts about 50,000 people every year, brings a major boost to our economy. The airport estimates this will be about a $10 million weekend for them. But once the burners arrive, more money will be spent on food, water, and of course transportation. Namely, bicycles.
We've all seen them around. The sparkly, fuzzy. and otherwise outrageously decorated bikes. Since they are the most common form of transportation on the playa, the demand for bikes skyrockets this time of year.
But it takes a certain kind of bike to make it on the playa.
For about 10 years now, the Kiwanis Club has been refurbishing old bikes and selling them to people heading out to the festival.
"We got into it accidentally," Ellen Jacobson, with the Reno- Sparks Kiwanis Club said. "One of the bike shops called and said you have bikes that are old and tired and can go to the playa, and we have a customer here who needs one."
The first year, Jacobson says they sold 6 bikes.
"This year we're selling over a thousand bikes to burners going out to the playa," Jacobson said.
At about $45 a bike, this event turns into one of the biggest fundraisers for the organization.
"This year I think it will be somewhere around $40,000," Jacobson said. "Which is wonderful because it pays the rent for this facility, then we are able to focus on kids programs."
The money raised through this selling and donating cycle helps the Kiwanis Club support the one group of people they care most about.
"The kids," Jacobson said when asked what her favorite part of the program was.
The Kiwanis Bike Program refurbishes old bikes and donates them to children, schools, and organizations in need across the area.
"The bikes we can't salvage we pull parts from and use those to help teach kids how to repair their own bikes," Jacobson said.
But she says there's just one problem.
"Once they go to the playa, [the bikes] are kind of toast."
Which means once the bikes are use, they aren't good for anything other than returning to Burning Man. Though the Kiwanis Club has an entire warehouse filled with bikes for their Bike Program, they need to set a certain group aside every year just for the festival. So to help keep their supply up, they encourage burners to donate the bikes back to the program.
"If they don't get donated, they end up in someone's recycling bin," Jacobson said.
Many of the burners head straight from the playa to the airport, but don't want to pay the extra fee to transport their bike.
"We've seen over the years several burners coming back through the airport with bikes they discard," Heidi Jared, an airport spokesperson said.
That is why this year, the airport is teaming up with the Kiwanis Club to make it easy for burners to give back to the community.
"We'll have an area on the center curb where attendees can leave their bike," Jared said. "The Kiwanis Club will then collect them and use them again next year."
There are several other donation sites across the area. For more information, call (775) 337-1717, or visit the website above.