Fire in the Mountains

Festivalgoers gather around the bonfire during Fire in the Mountains music festival at Heart Six Ranch in July. Festival organizers are hoping to bring in 2,000 metal fans next summer.

Organizers of a metal music festival in Moran are looking to double the event’s attendance in July 2020, seeking county approval for a maximum of 2,000 metalheads.

In 2018 the Fire in the Mountains festival applied for a crowd of 400. In 2019 the max allowed was 950, according to organizer Jeremy Walker.

“We’ve been on a growth rate each year of doubling our capacity,” Walker said.

Walker maintains that growing the audience is the only way for the event to be “economically viable,” and the festival is growing in popularity following a successful 2019 showing.

“I really do think we can get that number because of the way it was received and the talk that’s going around in the international community about this festival,” Walker said. “I think our return rate is going to be really high, and they’re going to bring their friends, their friends are going to bring their friends.”

For the two years Fire in the Mountains has rocked the Heart Six Ranch, the metal fest has proven controversial among neighbors who live in the rural Buffalo Valley area.

Neighbors detailed why they’re not happy with the expanded scale during public comments given last week to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. Neighbors said the metal festival is incompatible with the peace and quiet of the rural neighborhood and its wildlife. Buffalo Valley residents urged commissioners to revise county rules to prevent large-scale amplified events in natural areas.

“An event of 2,000 people on this particular parcel in Buffalo Valley could have catastrophic outcomes both in the near and long term,” resident Mickey Babcock said.

“The wildlife, from the osprey family raising its young perhaps 100 yards from the stage, to the band of cow elk that inhabit the willows with their babies across the wild and scenic Buffalo Fork to the stage, to the sandhill cranes hatching young in the hills above the stage, did not sign up for this,” resident Si Mattheis told the board.

Resident Janis Parent wrote in a letter to commissioners: “Believe me, it has a negative impact on both the humans and animals that live in the area. How could it not when you are forced to listen to loud blaring screaming, screeching, drumming, and guitar chaos for 10 hours a day for two days.”

Under current county rules, property owners in rural areas like the Heart Six Ranch are entitled to host up to three “outdoor receptions” each year. Organizers of these special events that may place demands on county resources like police and fire are required to submit an application with Teton County at least 45 days before an event, detailing plans like numbers of people and port-a-potties, security personnel and parking. The Fire in the Mountains 2020 application is under review by county departments.

Walker is confident his professional security and logistical teams can handle a bigger Fire in the Mountains. The only remaining hurdle is finding a place to put everyone.

Camping isn’t allowed on private land at the Heart Six Ranch without a conditional use permit approved by the county commission. Last year the festival maxed out a designated campsite on U.S. Forest Service land near the ranch.

Walker said the festival plans to apply for a conditional use permit that would allow camping on private property at the Heart Six Ranch, in addition to the Forest Service campsite. If that doesn’t work out, he said, the festival will encourage attendees to find other lodging opportunities throughout the valley and could resort to limiting ticket sales based on how much camping is allowed.

Neighbors aren’t the only ones who think the county land development regulations are flawed. Walker wrote commissioners an email asking for them to add camping as an allowed use on private land for outdoor receptions and special events.

“I feel the county should modify these LDRs to have camping in some capacity for some events, because these events are nationwide happening more regularly, and it needs to be more in tune with the times and the climate we live in,” he said.

Other changes for next year, Walker said, include an added emphasis on educating attendees, such as bringing in experts to speak about medicinal plants and Viking culture, or Native Americans from local tribes to speak on permaculture and bison migration. He is also suggesting this year that the neighbors work with him to hire an independent sound engineer to monitor decibel levels in the neighborhood. Whether or not concert sound levels exceeded county limits has been disputed during previous festivals.

In the long run, Walker said he doesn’t want the event to exceed 3,000 or 3,500 people.

“We don’t want this to be a huge, mega event,” he said.

He maintains the Fire in the Mountains team takes steps to mitigate its effect on the environment, and that the life-changing experiences of concertgoers are valuable in the face of briefly inconveniencing the neighbors.

“It’s literally three days out of 365 days,” Walker said. “We aren’t doing any harm to the environment, even though they say we are. They say we’re hurting birds. During one of the bands playing, an eagle came down and got a trout from the Buffalo Fork River not 150 feet from the stage.”

Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063 or county@jhnewsandguide.com.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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