Last of Rainbow Gathering attendees leave as restoration work is completed
Rapid planning by U.S. Forest Service staff, good cooperation with agency partners, work during the incident and rain helped the rehabilitation effort “go as well as it could” after the 50th anniversary Rainbow Gathering, Forest Service District Ranger Michael Woodbridge said this week.
Woodbridge said all remaining Rainbow Gathering campers in Adams Park in North Routt County left the forest on Monday evening, Aug. 8, after completing recommended rehabilitation work for almost one month.
“They did all the things we asked them to do. Anything we knew about, they addressed it when we brought it up to them,” Woodbridge said. “The Rainbow’s rehabilitation group did the best they could, but you can’t erase that impact. It’s impossible to erase the evidence of 10,000 people being on the forest in one place.”
Forest Service officials conducted a virtual meeting Tuesday to close out management efforts with the cooperating county and state level partners that helped before and during the unpermitted event. Woodbridge said discussion with cooperating agencies was mostly positive.
“Most people were really happy with how things went. Not having a large impact on our partners and cooperators, I think is one measure of success,” Woodbridge said. “There may be areas where we overprepared, but I think that’s why we were overall, by my measure, successful in managing this event.”
Woodbridge said the Forest Service allotted an additional $50,000 to the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and an additional $10,000 to the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office in funding to help with gathering management.
However, David “Mo” DeMorat, Routt County emergency operations director, asked the Forest Service for a $15,000 reimbursement for additional coverage for EMS augmentation. Woodbridge said that specifically requested ambulance coverage funding was not available from the Forest Service because the Rainbow Gathering was considered an “incident” and not an “emergency.” More funding is available during emergencies, such as wildfires, he said.
DeMorat noted Routt County will reimburse West Routt Fire Protection District for providing the second crew of emergency responders during the gathering, which drew a peak attendance of an estimated 10,000 people.
DeMorat said the county set up a separate incident dispatch service during the Rainbow Gathering in order to keep gathering-related calls separate from other emergency calls. He said that secondary dispatch stayed busy with some 1,000 radio calls from on-site law enforcement officers across 13 days.
“It was a lot of work, especially on the front end, making sure we had everything in place,” DeMorat said.
He said overall costs to Routt County due to the gathering are estimated at $45,000 or more, including $23,000 for in-house work performed by county departments and some $21,000 in expenses to pay for additional help from cooperating agencies and overtime for county staff.
Due to sufficient levels of precipitation that is helping grasses and plants recover at the gathering site in Adams Park, the Forest Service decided it will not need to reseed or mechanically aerate damaged areas, Woodbridge reported.
“We’ve been getting very good rain this season and that helped vegetation come back in many areas. If we didn’t get the rain, it would be worse out there,” Woodbridge said. “New growth is helping the places that got a lot of trampling.”
Woodbridge said Rainbow volunteers completed hand aeration in some areas of soil compaction of special concern where vehicles were parked. He said all visible trash and left-behind camping equipment has been removed by Rainbow volunteers.
In late July, some 30 to 40 Rainbow Gathering campers stayed on site to complete rehabilitation work with the guidance of an interdisciplinary team of Forest Service resource specialists.
“I’m glad that they do try to rehab the site. I’m glad that our folks were able to work with them in terms of overseeing the work they are doing and guiding the rehabilitation and restoration work,” Woodbridge said.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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