Breaking down the cleanup and cost of the Rainbow Family Gathering

Jul 9, 2013

Revelers gather around 'Kid Village,' one of the Rainbow Family gathering's kitchen tents, last week
Credit Dan Boyce

Activity at the site of this year’s Rainbow Family Gathering is continuing to wind down this week as a small team of revelers stays behind to cleanup and county and state officials tally up the costs.

Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest District Ranger Russ Riebe predicted there were still about two-thousand people at the site near Jackson, Montana, down from a high of about 9700 people on the fourth of July.

The gathering’s website claims it is the “largest non-organization of non-members in the world.” Still, Riebe said a ‘cleanup council’ was planning to convene today or Wednesday.

"We sit down with whoever we can afford the opportunity to,” Riebe said, so rehabilitation can be discussed. “We have certain requirements in the operating plan about mounding their latrine sites and rehabilitating the trails and those types of actions.”

Forest Service Resource specialists will oversee the cleanup efforts over the next few weeks. Reibe said the remaining Rainbows, as they like to be called, have been cooperative in picking up trash and restoring the land, so far. He said the well-travelled areas of the site are showing significant signs of ‘compaction.’

"We're very hopeful that the site will be rehabilitated to our satisfaction and over the next few years we'll come back to the pre-site conditions that it was," Reibe said.

The Cost

Since it is the responsibility of the gathering to conduct the cleanup, Riebe said the Forest Service is not expecting to have restorations costs. USFS does set aside $400-thousand to provide law enforcement each year for the gathering. Officials were not yet able to say how much of that was spent this year.

On July first, Governor Steve Bullock issued an emergency declaration in Beaverhead County on account of the Rainbow Gathering, which allows the county to apply for state emergency relief funds.

Beaverhead County Commissioner Mike McGinley says easily the biggest expense so far has been unpaid medical bills at Barrett Hospital in Dillon, totaling about $175-thousand. McGinley said the hospital can apply for the state emergency funds to recoup those costs. Outside of that, Beaverhead County enacted a two-mill emergency mill levy, which is costing county taxpayers a little more than $26-thousand. That paid for things like overtime and law enforcement and solid waste charges.

McGinley agreed the event brought in a great deal of positive economic impact to the county, from attendees spending money at gas stations and restaurants. But he calls the experience an overall negative one.

"If they would somehow organize, take care of the impacts that a group when they hit small communities do, I think they would be welcome,” McGinley said.