Rainbows earn praise for cleanup

PHOTO: Larry Johnson, environmental planner with the U.S. Forest Service out of Evanston, Wyo., looks over the main site of the recent Rainbow Family gathering on the North Slope of the Uinta mountains. Aside from a few well-worn areas, foreground, the meadow was well-cleaned and is expected to recover quickly. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune)

By Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake Tribune

The Uinta forests are over the Rainbows.
In the Wasatch-Cache National Forest's view, this year's Rainbow Family spiritual gathering left the land, water and air of northeastern Utah in fine shape, thanks to controls in place during the group's Independence Day gathering, and its aggressive cleanup afterward.

"The Rainbows did a good job of cleaning up the site and following through with their commitments to restore the site," said Stephen Ryberg, district ranger for the forest's Evanston and Mountain View districts.

"Things went well from a resource standpoint."

The pronouncement, based on site surveys by forest officials and the Summit County Public Health Department, is noteworthy, since about 9,000 members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light swarmed over 600 acres of the Uintas through the July Fourth weekend.

Stephen "Principle" Sedlacko of Klackamas, Ore., who has reveled with Rainbows for about 25 years, stayed to help restore the area for nearly two weeks after the gathering's drum circle summit."Freedom comes with responsibility," he said. "We have always attempted to clean up our messes and restore the disruption created in the environment."

To honor their tradition, and to comply with the terms of their Forest Service permit (which expired Monday), the Rainbows posted signs telling people not to cook and camp too close to the Little West Fork of the Black's Fork River, which runs through the gathering area. They also picked up trash, hauled off refuse and covered their toilet pits.

Sedlacko said he also may return in the fall to help reseed areas beaten down by foot traffic. Ryberg noted that the Forest Service was particularly concerned about impacts to Colorado cutthroat trout, a sensitive species that inhabits the Little West Fork.

The Rainbows built bridges to help protect the stream from excessive sediment. Forest Service officials also monitored the area daily for those who ignored the ban on camping within 100 feet of the stream, or who put fire pits, kitchens or latrines within 300 feet, but most people complied.

Even excrement from an estimated 2,000 dogs was cleaned up, Ryberg said. "Where they saw a problem, they dealt with it."
He noted, too, how the Rainbows sometimes went above and beyond to demonstrate their environmental ethic. He saw gloved crews sort through the black garbage bags in the sweltering summer heat to extract recyclables, such as pop cans and plastic drinking bottles.

Ryberg said the grass had worn away in some central gathering places, but he expects those spots to rebound after reseeding and time.

After touring the site Wednesday, Summit County health officials had the same positive assessment of the site, said Bob Swensen, environmental director for the agency. Water-quality sampling turned up no problems, he said.

"My opinion is, it looks as if no one had been there," Swensen concluded. "I'd have to give them an 'A' for their cleanup."