Mid-cleanup mess: Some Rainbows vow to stay a month to help
Along scenic Routt County Road 80, wildflowers are in bloom and sheepherder wagons stand in fields.
In contrast, significant amounts of bagged trash and discarded camping equipment are piled up alongside the roads in Adams Park, a result of the 50th anniversary Rainbow Gathering about 25 miles north of Hayden.
Multiple attendees called the gathering “beautiful” and “amazing.” However, many Rainbows said the hype of the gathering attracted a significant percentage of a young festival-goers who did not pack out everything they packed in.
Approximately 100 campers remained on site Friday, July 15, at the gathering that brought a peak of about 10,000 people and at least 2,000 vehicles.
“This is about the ugliest part of the clean out,” said gathering attendee Scott Parker. “All of the trash, it’s out of the woods.”
Volunteers hauled out abandoned tents, buckets, tarps, camp chairs, collapsible wagons, sleeping bags, shoes, clothes, small fuel canisters, coolers, a guitar and a bike that was locked to a tree.
“I would definitely put in the paper to ‘pack it in, pack it out,’ so that hippies don’t have to do it for you,” said Butterfly, using her Rainbow name. “It’s not a festival; it’s a gathering.”
“It’s the festival kids with a lack of awareness,” said Oats, also his Rainbow name. He said “real” Rainbow family attendees follow the guidelines of “peace, love, freedom and respect.”
Butterfly, Oats and other campers were part of one of two groups remaining along Adams Park Trail 1144. The “stock pot” camp about one mile from the south trailhead included an estimated 24 people who were working on cleanup and rehabilitation efforts.
The 50-inch-wide, multi-use trail provides foot, horse, motorcycle and ATV access to the Bears Ears system of trails. The trail showed obvious signs of increased wear including tire ruts compared to mid-June.
U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Michael Woodbridge walked the perimeter of the gathering with colleagues on Friday and met with Rainbows, some of whom pledged to stay up to one month if necessary to clean up.
Woodbridge said he was full of mixed emotions after the electronic mapping of a spiderweb of social trails and campsites. He said staff left location flags for Rainbows that noted “no work,” meaning cleanup was sufficient, and flags marked “needs repair.”
Woodbridge said the damage ranged from soil compaction that inhibits plant regrowth to holes dug to “compost” leftover food that were not covered with soil and canine waste left in the forest from hundreds of dogs.
“I’m glad to see there’s a lot less people living in the woods here and a lot of trash and structures removed,” Woodbridge said. “I’m concerned how long it’s going to take. It’s hard for everything to get found and restored in an overall footprint of approximately 1,300 acres.”
Woodbridge said the estimated expenditure for this year’s gathering stands at $700,000, including the Forest Service’s national incident management team and local costs. He said Forest Service resource specialists will continue to visit the site to help direct Rainbows in fulfilling responsibilities outlined in a 10-page resource protection plan.
“Nothing is made for 10,000 people on a national forest,” Woodbridge said. “It’s created a lot of work for us.”
The district ranger said Forest Service officials are counting on Rainbows to remove all remaining trash and debris and are not planning to bring in any more dumpsters.
The agency paid for two industrial-sized dumpsters that were filled by July 7. Woodbridge made that decision because he was concerned about the amount of trash accumulating in the various camps that might attract and habituate wildlife and because of past reports that Rainbows deposited excessive trash in nearby towns.
Some Rainbows said they will take as much trash as possible as they leave, some planning to transport it 100 miles before dumping. Other Rainbows said trash was being hauled out on a trailer and a small rental moving truck to be taken to a landfill.
Justin from Connecticut, who rode his bike to attend his third gathering, was the last person at the “handicamp” for older or disabled Rainbows. As he pulled a mosquito net over his head to protect against the many bugs, he was surrounded by the trash, various supplies and food left by others.
“I think it’s a really beautiful event. I was hoping to find a girlfriend here. I got 10 rejections,” Justin said with a smile.
Resting after working to aerate soil in the main meadow with a pickaxe, Justin said he loves that the gathering is open to everyone, but unfortunately not all of those attendees follow leave no trace ethics.
“Anybody can come here, and not everybody has that ethos,” he said.
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