Rainbow Family gathering to cost $500K for law enforcement

Friday , June 20, 2014 - 6:52 PM

HEBER CITY — The Rainbow Family of Living Light have decided to hold their annual gathering on national forest land near Kamas, raising concerns about impacts.

The gathering site is located around 15 miles east of Heber City in the West Fork of the Duchesne area, and U.S. Forest Service Officials expect the event to draw between 10,000 and 20,000 people. Populations should peak around July 4.

“Any event of this size can have significant impacts on traffic, communities, local resources, residents and visitors,” representatives with the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest said in a press release. 

The Rainbow Family was formed in Oregon in 1970 with the goal of promoting peace a non-violence. It has held “gatherings” on national forests every year since 1972. The group lacks leaders and any formal affiliation. According to David Whittekiend, supervisor for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, the Rainbow Family first announced this year’s gathering location on their website. He has since worked with the group to develop an operating plan to protect forest resources.

“Having up to 20,000 people in area, you’re certainly going to get impacts,” Whittekiend said. “We’re actually trying to manage those impacts.”

Resources advisors with the U.S. Forest Service have worked with Rainbow Family members to develop an operating plan. Whittekiend, the plan is meant to protect local streams, wetlands and sensitive wildlife habits that could be impacted by the gathering. Once the gathering ends, some Rainbow Family members will stay behind to pick up garbage, clean and bury fire pits and help restore the area. 

“Our experience is that they’ve done a good job of rehabbing those areas once they’re done,” Whittekiend said.

The last Rainbow gathering in Utah was held in 2003, on the north slope of the Uinta Mountains. That gathering drew 9,800 people, and according to Whittekiend, the gatherers left the site in good condition.

“In the end, it was a relatively positive experience,” he said.

Still, the gatherings aren’t without their costs to the forest service. Last year’s gathering in southwestern Montana cost the federal agency about $575,000 in law enforcement and administrative expenses. According to Kathy Jo Pollock, public information officer with Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, this year’s gathering is expected to run the same, in the range of $500,000. 

Recent snowfall and cold weather is expected to have slowed the gathering so far, but Whittekiend expects the gathering to begin picking up over the weekend. He said his agency will work to keep the public informed about any impacts to resources and local communities for the duration of the gathering.

"We’ll try to keep people in loop as much as possible.There will be updates on our website and Twitter feed,“ he said. ”Our intention is to do as good a job as possible.“

For more information, visit the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/uwcnf

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