Earlier this summer, thousands of members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a loose affiliation of peace activists, made their way to the Green Mountain National Forest for their annual celebration of nature and hippie culture. This year’s festivities peaked around the Fourth of July, but the gathering is still winding down.
Ethan Ready, spokesman for U.S. Forest Service in the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest, joined VPR to discuss how the gathering went and the long-term impact it will have on the forest and the region.
The overall impact of the gathering:
“One of the things that we're really proud of is our collaboration with local, state, federal partners, as well as or our overall safety record with the event,” Ready said.
“One of our main objectives from the very get-go was access along a very small and narrow road in the forest. We really had to work hard and we did have some complications at times with keeping that road open. That was challenging at times, but we recognize that that could be someone's lifeline. That was really important for us.”
Ready said the increased traffic in the forest,, both pedestrian and motor vehicle, has caused damage. As the gathering comes to a close, the U.S. Forest Service has sent in specialists to assess potential damage caused by the gathering, and guide the rehabilitation on the land.
“For instance, Forest Road 10 has a lot of damage alongside the road where people were parked — the ditches. But then, you know, within that site, there's also areas that need to be worked on: There's a lot of foot traffic, a lot of the trails have been widened.
“We've provided the Rainbow family with a list of expected mitigation measures and site rehabilitation that we'd like to see done before they leave. On a positive note, they have been very good about cleaning up the trash, historically. So you know, we're going to take them at face value.”
On the financial costs:
“We budgeted $500,000 federally-appropriated dollars for the management of the gathering each year,” Ready says. “That's what we anticipate spending here in Vermont. We're not really apt to handle 10,000 people deciding they're going to camp in one area, so that's why we structure the gathering in a way that allows for additional resources to be brought in.”
On law enforcement's role in this year’s gathering:
“We had somewhere around 200 citations and violation notices that were issued,” Ready says. “When you have 10,000 people gathered and 200 citations or violations issued, you're really only looking at 2 percent. Ninety-eight percent of these people were just stand-up folks that were really there to enjoy the holiday weekend.”
Both the ACLU and Gov. Peter Shumlin suggested during the event that law enforcement were hassling Rainbow family members. Ready says overall the community around Green Mountain National Forest was happy with the preparation for the event.
“I think that we got a lot of support from local communities ... We held town meetings, tried to really keep the public up to speed as best we could. There were a lot of unknowns and I think that when you look back on it people were really happy to have some controls in place."