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Rainbow Gathering cleanup, forest rehabilitation moving slower than expected

U.S. Forest Service officials say the 50th anniversary Rainbow Gathering that took place 25 miles north of Hayden attracted more than 2,100 vehicles at the height of attendance. Compacted soils from multiple days of vehicle camping groups in the undeveloped forest area may need to be machine aerated and reseeded.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The status of cleanup and rehabilitation work at the site of the 50th anniversary Rainbow Gathering in northern Routt County is progressing slowly, according to U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Michael Woodbridge.

About 30 to 40 Rainbow Gathering attendees remain on site and are working with the guidance of an interdisciplinary team of Forest Service resource specialists.

“They are slowly but surely aerating things and re-naturalizing bare areas and working with our resource advisers to get things rehabbed,” Woodbridge said Wednesday, July 27.



Other Rainbow Gathering campers who are not actively helping with rehab efforts have been “highly encouraged to move along” based on the “shared interest” of both the Forest Service and Rainbows doing the work, Woodbridge said.

Most of the piles of trash, recyclable materials, and discarded or damaged camping equipment left behind has been hauled away by Rainbow volunteers, Woodbridge said. Lead resource advisors and Rainbow volunteers had hoped to complete necessary work by the end of this week, but that informal timeline will not be met.



“There is still a lot of work to do and a small number of folks to do it,” Woodbridge said. “While the Rainbows have a decent idea of basic rehab, having our folks providing guidance and some oversight is a key part of making it successful. The Rainbows welcomed that knowledge and that dialogue. I’ve had them tell us multiple times that they really appreciate the work we have done out there to flag areas (still needing repair).”

Resource advisors have inventoried and electronically mapped all the environmental disturbances they have been able to find following the gathering. The district ranger said the hand rehabilitation work done by Rainbows on smaller areas of newly created social trails, kitchen areas and latrines has been successful.

Aeration and naturalizing of larger areas of compacted soils where group vehicle-camping areas were set up in the undeveloped forest along Routt County Road 80 currently is the top Forest Service concern, Woodbridge said.


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“We think a lot of these areas that were heavily impacted by the vehicles will not come back on their own. When you have a disturbed area, weeds are the first thing that will move in there,” he said.

The larger areas of vehicle-camping for multiple days may have to be repaired through machine aeration and precise reseeding at the expense of the Forest Service, Woodbridge said.

Angie Gamble, a Rainbow Gathering attendee and Routt County resident, said she is concerned that Forest Service officials “are making extra effort for themselves and then chalking it up as expenses that the Rainbow family has incurred.”

Gamble requested that news stories “include the thoughts of the Rainbow Family that they plan to clean up everything whether the Forest Service is there or not.”

Numerous social media comments and emails sent by Rainbows say Forest Service officials overemphasized the impact of the gathering and alleged law enforcement officials focused too much on minor vehicle infractions and marijuana use. Woodbridge countered that gathering attendees brought guns and drugs to the event.

“There were plenty of guns confiscated, plenty of drugs including fentanyl and other very dangerous things, and people with outstanding warrants,” Woodbridge said.

National Rainbow Incident Management Team Public Information Officer Hilary Markin said a total of 509 law enforcement actions occurred during the gathering, including 12 arrests, 244 violation notices, 218 incident reports and 35 written warnings.  

Woodbridge said utilizing three shifts of officers to maintain 24-hour law enforcement coverage during the height of the large event was “a necessity and that cost money to have law enforcement out there effectively managing many people.”

In addition to Forest Service law enforcement coverage, Routt County Undersheriff Doug Scherar said the Routt County Sheriff’s Department utilized the assistance of deputies from Grand, Park and Gilpin counties. From June 27 to July 7, sheriff personnel made 94 contacts with Rainbow attendees, 56 of which were traffic related at or near the gathering. Those overall contacts led to nine arrests, including four felony-level drug arrests, four out-of-area warrants, and one arrest for both disorderly conduct and indecent exposure, Scherar reported.

Woodbridge noted Forest Service expenses related to the gathering are currently $700,000. Markin said those costs cover addressing health and safety risks to the public and participants, minimizing environmental impacts with law enforcement presence and actions, recognizing and mitigating social and political impacts, respecting civil rights of all members of the public, and working in partnership with other law enforcement and health organizations.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, as well as Routt County Humane Society, leaders reported the gathering did not generate any official wildlife or lost pet incidents.


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