Tuesday, June 27, 2006
The Rainbow gathering is still a few days away, but already the event has dominated headlines for weeks.
Forgive the irony of the newspaper responsible for those headlines preaching calm. Still, we would urge everyone to heed the advice of communities that have been through previous gatherings -- remain calm, maintain composure and remember that this too shall pass.
The impacts of the Rainbow gathering on Steamboat Springs have been minimal -- an increase in incidents of panhandling, shoplifting, loitering and hitchhiking. There also has been an economic boost to local stores. Perhaps it's a nuisance. But it's hardly a disaster.
The most annoying part of the Rainbow Gathering is the tension between the Forest Service and the Rainbow Family.
We know the background. The Forest Service thinks that any time a large group wants to camp in the national forest, the group has to agree to play by some ground rules that someone in the "group" can be held accountable for enforcing. The agency justifiably is concerned about fire dangers this year.
The Rainbow Family thinks public lands are just that and that anyone should be able to use those lands without having to be responsible for anyone else. Group members say that, even when they abided by the Forest Service's permit process the past three years, they still were harassed by the Forest Service's law enforcement officers.
After going through this every year since 1972, it would seem that the Forest Service and the Rainbow Family would have a better system. The fact that they don't leads us to suspect there is more interest in having the fight than in resolving it.
The result is that sticks get thrown at Forest Service officers and guns get drawn on Rainbow Family members over what amounts to illegal camping citations.
A couple of things would help us take the Rainbow Family's cause more seriously.
First, the family should quit pretending it's not an organized group. That's an argument of convenience to avoid taking responsibility for the minority of participants who are up to no good.
Every year, the Rainbow Family creates elaborate water and sewer systems in the national forest. The family produces a newspaper for participants and has a well-regarded health care team of volunteer doctors and nurses. By all accounts, the clean-up crew does a great job. The family even has its own law enforcement system. Any group that can pull off such accomplishments is organized enough to negotiate a reasonable deal with the Forest Service allowing the event to proceed in peace.
Second, the Rainbow Family has to move its "A Camp." A Camp is at the entrance to the Rainbow Gathering and is host to heavy drinking. Members of this camp accost anyone who tries to enter the event. They yell, shout, threaten and panhandle. It would be a lot easier to buy into the peaceful spirituality of the Rainbow Gathering if you didn't first have to run this gauntlet of intimidation.
The Forest Service and Rainbow Family profess to have similar goals when it comes to the preservation of public lands. It's too bad they can't work better together and lessen some of the impact these large annual gatherings have on the small, rural counties where they are held.