TAOS — After the Rainbow Family Gathering’s descent on the Carson National Forest from late June to July 7, between 40 and 50 people have stayed behind to address the waste generated by an estimated crowd of 5,000 — at the event’s height — off Forest Road 76 in Taos County.
The gathering drew nomads and locals alike, with many spending two full weeks in the mountains near Tres Ritos, much to the dismay of some area residents.
Perhaps more concerning to locals than what the group brought to the area is what it left behind.
U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Hilary Markin said thanks to a dedicated cleanup crew and the aid of the federal agency, the gathering site is on track to be reclaimed.
The group has no specified leader and declines to sign permits for gatherings, Markin said, so the Forest Service has dealt with the situation by asking what would normally be required of anyone seeking a special use permit for a large gathering in a national forest.
“We have put together a rehabilitation plan [and] we are working with those that are left up at the site to follow it,” Markin said. The plan includes measures for “making sure all the garbage has been taken off the land and disposed of properly, covering up any slit trenches, latrines, compost pits … and breaking up any soil compaction.”
The Forest Service has handled the Rainbow Family Gathering just like any other forest “incident,” Markin said, and brought in a Type III incident management team, as they would for a forest fire or other natural disaster.
Markin said the event wasn’t out of control and “was pretty similar to what we’ve experienced in past years” with Rainbow Family events.
She said the duties of the Forest Service incident management team were not just to help with the health and safety of the people, but also to help with resource protection, “ensuring that they are not damaging the natural resources out there that are still valuable to the community.”
The protection plan includes monitoring the cleanup team and even providing resources at times. Markin said the Forest Service has provided the group with wood chips and native seeds to help them reclaim the most heavily trafficked areas.
“Overall, it went really well as far as the health and safety of everybody involved and working as best we can to protect the natural resources,” she said. “We know how valuable the national forest is — in particular that area or along Forest Road 76 — to the community.”
Taos County Commissioner Candyce O’Donnell, who represents the district in which the gathering took place, said she also felt the land was being cared for properly after taking a visit to the gathering site.
O’Donnell said she saw few signs of wrongdoing at the gathering when she attended July 4 for the group’s silent prayer for world peace. She said she felt they knew what they were doing when it came to cleaning up the site.
“They clean up an area better than any local campers or out-of-state campers,” she said after her post-gathering visit. She added that she went past the boundary of the gathering site only to find “a campfire still smoldering with a bunch of alcoholic cans and glass in it and a bag left behind.”
“My observation would be that the Rainbow people clean up better than any local people I’ve seen trash the forest,” she said.
O’Donnell also disputed the Forest Service’s claim there were 5,000 attendees at the event
July 4, saying she saw far fewer and counted about 600 cars on the way out.
The cleanup is set to go on for a week or more if necessary.