KSL TV, June 19, 2003
Jun. 19, 2003
The Rainbows are coming!
In the next 2 weeks, some 20 thousand people are expected in Utah’s Uinta Mountains for a counter- culture event called the Rainbow Family’s annual gathering.
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These scenes are from the gathering 2- years ago in Central Idaho. And what’s billed as a celebration of peace and love always turns out to be a giant headache for government agencies.
John Hollenhorst just returned from Central Idaho. John, are there any lessons for us in Idaho’s experience?
Yes, it didn’t turn out too badly, even though it generated plenty of worry.
Some Idahoans now say the Forest Service worried way too much.
But make no mistake, from a government perspective the Rainbows create a huge problem every year. They suddenly show up in the woods 20,000 strong and agencies have only a few days to get ready.
Rainbow hitchhikers are already enroute to Utah for an event that sounds completely benign.
RAINBOW HITCHHIKER: “FAMILY REUNION, FAMILY GET-TOGETHER. THAT’S ALL.”
RAINBOW HITCHHIKER: “THE POINT OF THE RAINBOW GATHERING IS TO PRAY FOR WORLD PEACE.”
But when the Rainbows converged on this pristine meadow in Idaho two years ago 20,000 people all in one place U.S. Forest Rangers feared the worst.
WALT ROGERS/BOISE NATIONAL FOREST: “IF WE ALLOW THEM AND EVERYBODY ELSE TO COME OUT HERE AND DO WHATEVER THEY WANT, THIS PRISTINE MEADOW WON’T BE PRISTINE ANY LONGER.”
Essentially, everything the Rainbows did was illegal. In Idaho they never got a use permit. But there was little the government could do to stop them from coming.
SPENCER UHL/STANLEY IDAHO POLICE CHIEF: “YOU’D HAVE TO CALL IN THE NATIONAL GUARD. THAT’S THE ONLY WAY YOU’D BE ABLE TO DO IT. REALLY.”
JOHN HOLLENHORST: “THE DILEMMA FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT IS, IF YOU TRY TO STOP 20,000 PEOPLE THAT ARE COMING TO THE GREAT OUTDOORS, IT WILL SIMPLY SCATTER THEM INTO OTHER COMMUNITIES WHERE THEY COULD CAUSE EVEN MORE TROUBLE.”
Government agencies decided they had to live with it. So they mounted a massive effort to minimize the consequences. Dozens of federal state and county officials were coordinated by a special federal team, created years ago exclusively to handle the Rainbows.
Mounted police patrols maintained order and, to a limited extent, enforced drug and alcohol laws.
Health teams monitored the huge communal camp kitchens that fed the Rainbows.
Medical teams stood by for emergencies.
A massive parking lot was managed for the least damage possible.
Vital habitat for steelhead salmon was marked off and protected.
WALT ROGERS/BOISE NATIONAL FOREST: “ONCE WE GOT THE AREA FLAGGED AND WE EDUCATED THEM, AND THE REASONS WHY, THEY COMPLIED WITH THAT FAIRLY WELL.”
That turned out to be a surprise for many. Most Rainbows cooperated! Most were law-abiding, except for a troublesome percentage.
PHIL ENRIGHT/RESTAURANT MANAGER & FORMER POLICE CHIEF: “SOME OF THEM WOULD GET DRUNK AND BELLIGERENT. THEN WE HAD SOME PETTY THEFTS.”
+There were 11 felony arrests +41 misdemeanor arrests +1108 citations, mostly traffic and vehicle related +181 violations were drug-related.
SPENCER UHL/STANLEY IDAHO POLICE CHIEF: “YOU KNOW, FOR 20,000 PEOPLE, I WOULDN’T CALL IT A LOT.”
There WAS considerable damage to the landscape.
But now, two years later, Nature has repaired most of it… except for scars from hundreds of fire pits and latrine trenches.
WALT ROGERS/BOISE NATIONAL FOREST:”IT WILL TAKE SEVERAL YEARS FOR THE SOD TO GET BACK INTO THOSE AREAS. ” A veteran forest ranger told me that in his 33 years with the Forest Service, handling the Rainbows was the toughest challenge of his career.
The most interesting, Dick and Nadine. but the toughest.