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“Hippies” Trash National Forest, Will They Again This Year?

Another national forest has been trashed, and this time it was by a group of self-proclaimed “environmentalists” called the Rainbow Family. 

Also referred to as bohemianism, hipster and hippie culture by Wikipedia, this group has a history of leaving their mark.

But yet again, cleanup and forest restoration continues on taxpayers’ dime! Here’s what we know: 

Carson National Forest Restoring Site Trashed By Rainbow Gathering

Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico is urging visitors to “tread lightly” as restoration work concludes on a large swath of land off of Forest Road 76. The agency has been working on restoring a site damaged by a large gathering of “Rainbow Family” in early July 2021.

As many as 5,000 people at a time were camping and partying on the land during the event.

Although restoration work is coming to a conclusion, Forest Road 76 is still in bad shape. Travelers should use caution as the road heals from rain and overuse.

The main question for us…will they continue these destructive behaviors during this year’s gathering?

Related: Regional BLM Shuts Down Free Camping Indefinitely Due to Land Abuse

What is a Rainbow Gathering?

A Rainbow Gathering is a gathering of free-spirits from across the globe. These individuals identify with the “Rainbow Family of Living Light”, as self-proclaimed on their website.

The Rainbow Family claim to be into intentional community building, non-violence, and alternative lifestyles on their website. In addition, they claim many of their traditions are based on Native American traditions. And, they have a “strong orientation to take care of the earth”. 

So it seems ironic that they would gather en masse and damage local ecosystems, doesn’t it? 

On their website, they say: 

“We gather in the National Forests yearly to pray for peace on this planet.” 

They forgot to add the part where they trample native vegetation, dispose of waste in the natural environment, displace animals, and cause long-lasting damage to local ecosystems. 

Rainbow Gathering from guano on Flickr

Local Officials Couldn’t Stop the Damage, So They Tried To Minimize the Impacts

According to this news brief in the Albuquerque Journal, forest service officials were only warned of the event a few days prior. 

Over 5,000 people were in attendance during the busiest days of the Rainbow Gathering. Any event or gathering in a national forest with over 75 attendees must obtain a permit. But, the Rainbow Family refused. A Carson National Forest Spokesperson said the group refused to obtain a permit. 

So, what’s a strained National Forest agency to do but clench their teeth and brace for impact? 

Hillary Markin, a Carson National Forest spokesperson, said: 

“In lieu of a permit, we worked with them to minimize environmental damage.” 

According to the news brief, the forest agency responded to the massive event by treating it like a natural disaster. The agency came up with a resource protection plan, management team, and rehabilitation plan. 

Related: Campers Trash National Forest Campground, Now It’s Closed Indefinitely

Restoration Work Continues on Abused Public Land

The forest team worked with individuals from the Rainbow Family during and after the event to attempt to protect soil health, water quality, archaeological sites, and sensitive species of wildlife. 

According to the Albuquerque Journal, around 20 Rainbow Gathering participants stayed behind to help clean up behind the massive group. 

Although most of the physical restoration work has concluded, the earth still needs time to heal and regrow. Part of the restoration included replanting native vegetation that had been trampled by Rainbow Gathering revelers. The agency also worked to cover man-made foot paths. 

Man-Made Ovens, Swing Sets, Latrines, and More

During the Rainbow Gathering, man-made structures were erected including ovens, swing sets, fire rings, latrines, and more. The national forest agency had to remove trash, man-made structures, and find a way to cover and mound the latrines of human waste to help minimize the impacts on the local environment. 

Forest Spokesperson Hillary Markin said the area is already seeing plant growth from the native seed mix spread on the worn ground. This is an encouraging sign that the earth is healing.

Rainbow Gathering Trade Circle from satemkemet on Flickr

National Forest Management = Your Tax Dollars At Work

Our national forests receive federal funding allocated from tax dollars. National forest cleanup efforts take time, manpower, and resources away from the agency. In essence, the funding for cleanups like the one made necessary by the Rainbow Gathering comes directly from tax payers. 

National Forests and public lands are ours to use because we pay for their upkeep and management. It makes you think a bit differently about how we treat and use these lands. And, if you’re anything like us, hearing about land abuse is pretty upsetting! 

It’s up to us to recreate responsibly and help take care of our public lands. If national forests and public lands continue being trashed, we run the risk of losing the opportunity to use them altogether. 

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  1. zenandrea says:

    I lived in a beautiful rural area that was visited not once but twice in less than 10years by the Rainbow gathering. Not only did they do incredible damage to our forest but they inundated the local communities with crime and congestion. A group of 4 or 5 would show up at the tiny local store and ask for out dated food. The store had none. The next night someone visited the store after hours and broke several windows. The tiny town of 100 people had over 50 visiting LEO for over a month to deal with similar incidents. It was stressful. I was teaching at the time and had to deal with people “wandering” into my yard as well as trying to enter the school. There is very little peace that comes to the local areas from these gatherings.

  2. Sue says:

    Damm, I went to some Rainbow gatherings in the 90’S and there was always a clean up crew . But, things have changed a lot since then. Makes me angry to read this !

  3. Nan says:

    Interesting. I know people who work on the Coronado NF in Arizona. When the Rainbow Family had a gathering there a few years ago they left the area so clean the Forest Service employees had trouble finding the location. Law enforcement knew exactly where it had been, but the archeologist and biologist surveying it after the fact found no damage to the resources. Guess it’s like everything else — location and precise mix of participants makes a difference.

  4. Garrick Beck says:

    Much of this article is mis-leading. The Rainbows and the US Forest Service resource and admin people worked really well together this year to see that the Resource Protection plan and the Rehabilitation plan for the event were successful. The article that the writers above draw most their story from actually says that it was the Rainbows who did all the rehab work described – on the Rainbow’s dime, and not as the writers make up, on the Public’s or the Forest Service’s dime. There are several articles in the Santa Fe New Mexican quoting FS officials and a Taos County Commissioner about how well the land and water and vegetation were protected. Here’s the link to that much more favorable view: Also, Brad Pratt a USFS agency representative explained at a public meeting ahead of the Gathering that the Rainbows had done really well over the past many years complying with both resource protection and rehabilitation. I was there. The entire valley was kept clean from beginning to end, and Rainbows began sorting and removing recyclables starting as soon as the seed camp landed. Lots of older garbage left behind by who knows was removed as well. And that’s…the other side of the story

  5. ERWIN B. says:

    Yeah, have seen the same kind of thing about 20+ years ago in an even more famous place.we were in England on a multi week company trip. Of course we had to go by Stoneheng on the weekend. First pass the place looked like the pictures, the second was just after one of those “gatherings” of the swine. Could not believe the crap they made and left.

  6. John McCall says:

    Omg this propaganda has been going on for years to oppose the idea that a First Amendment Gathering on Public land can be a Free Speech event. The same road was actually heavily damaged during CoVid by hundreds of huge fifth wheel toy haulers and campers parked up and down the road with atvs everywhere. The idea that 5000 people ridesharing and hiking in to tent camps was a problem for taxpayers is a continuation of the resistance of government bureaucracy to locally based and organized groups of citizens who care about the land. The same FS burned most of that forest down a couple years ago with an out of control “controlled burn.” That was about the largest fire in NM history and the cost of reclamation will be paid for generations. The Rainbow Gatherers attempt to “leave no trace” and replant areas. Local Colorado forest enthusiasts posted multiple you tube videos of improvements and the great joy the Gathering brought to their forests in 2022 after first expressing skepticism. Look at those and see the actual proof.

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