Forest Service helps restore ‘Rainbow Gathering’ site

The entrance to the annual Rainbow Gathering as seen on Friday, July 2, in the Carson National Forest. The Forest Service estimated about 5,000 people were camped at the site during the event’s peak, and the agency worked with the group to restore conditions. (Cedar Attanasio/Associated Press)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Peace, love…. and latrine cleanup?

The Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico has asked visitors to “tread lightly” along Forest Road 76 after the agency restored a site where thousands of free spirits gathered earlier this summer.

The Rainbow Family of Living Light held its annual gathering from late June through the first week in July on the Camino Real Ranger District near Taos.

Forest Service teams estimated about 5,000 people camped out during the event’s July 4 peak, when the group prayed for world peace from sunrise to noon.

Groups of more than 75 must have a permit for forest events.

The Forest Service and the Rainbow Family used a native seed mix to restore grass growth to a site where 5,000 people camped earlier this summer for the annual Rainbow Gathering. (Courtesy of USDA Forest Service)

But Hilary Markin, a Forest Service spokesperson, said the group refused, claiming that no one member can represent them in the permit process.

“In lieu of a permit, we worked with them to minimize environmental damage,” Markin said.

The group first told the Forest Service about the planned event days before arriving on the federal land.

The agency responded by treating the “incident” like a fire or other natural disaster, with a resource protection plan, management team and rehabilitation plan.

The Rainbow Family could not be reached for comment about the event and cleanup.

According to their website, the loosely-affiliated group “expounds a vision of cooperation and coexistence for the healing and the betterment of humankind.”

Annual events that draw global participants are a “chance to cleanse, rejoice, celebrate and become in beautiful ways.”

Markin said the forest team worked with the Rainbow Family during and after the event on a watershed-focused effort to protect soil health, water quality, archaeological sites and sensitive wildlife species.

Mulch is delivered to the main parking area of the Rainbow Gathering on the Carson National Forest to help cover up user-made trails. (Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)

About 20 Rainbow affiliates stayed behind after the event concluded to ensure the group cleared out and cleaned up.

“It involved removing trash, man-made structures like ovens, fire rings, swing sets, and mounding the latrines so they don’t settle in a way that would create depressions and catch water,” Markin said.

Restoration work also included reseeding and mulching bare earth worn down by campers and covering up user-made trails.

“We’re already starting to see plant growth from that native seed mix, which is really encouraging,” Markin said.

Forest Road 76 is still “in bad shape” from rains and increased use, Markin said.

The first Rainbow Gathering was held in 1972 in northern Colorado. Before this year, events had been hosted on the Gila National Forest in 1977, the Carson in 1995 and the Santa Fe in 2009.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

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