Eastern Oregon could host an annual assembly of thousands known as the Rainbow Family gathering.
Adam Buxbaum, a Rainbow gathering attendee, said it’s not yet known where the gathering will be held. He said the decision would be made within the month at the Spring Council, taking place now on the Umatilla National Forest in northern Grant County.
“This is an open circle which anyone can attend and participate in,” he said. “It is the circle which will make the determination by consensus of which site we will use to host the annual Rainbow gathering.”
Following the council’s decision, which usually takes between two and five days, those present will move to the decided upon area and begin preparing the site, he said. That is when most of the infrastructure is developed, according to Buxbaum.
“The Rainbow gathering could land anywhere in Oregon that has a national forest,” he said. “Spring Council is usually within an hour or two drive of the best site or two that people have located while scouting.”
The Forest Service’s main concern with the influx of such a large group of people are the effects on natural resources, public safety and the impact on the community, said Mike Stearly, public affairs specialist for the Malheur National Forest. He estimated the gathering could attract between 10,000 and 25,000 people.
The Rainbow gathering will be managed by a federal incident management team with law enforcement officers and advisers. The team will be similar to those dispatched for wildfires and will work with local law enforcement and the community, according to Stearly.
Stearly said the Forest Service requires groups larger than 75 people to acquire a special use permit.
The Montana Standard newspaper reported the total cost for the U.S. Forest Service relating to a Rainbow Family gathering near Jackson, Montana, in 2013 was $573,361. Roughly $400,000 of that was spent on law enforcement.
During the 1997 gathering on the Ochoco National Forest in Crook County, garbage disposal, increased traffic and low levels of fecal coliform and giardia present in streams used as water sources were concerns. There were reports of overdoses, drug and alcohol charges and a recovered stolen vehicle.
Local artist and Prairie City resident David Seacord, who has attended these gatherings in the past, said there could be both benefits and drawbacks to having the gathering in the area.
“Any community that has a gathering in the area is going to be benefited economically,” Seacord said.
However, like many events, he said the gathering could attract undesirable elements. As a whole, he said, the event was peaceful and respectful, but sometimes opportunists will take advantage of a free, public event that welcomes everyone.
The gathering is made possible entirely through volunteers who build from scratch the infrastructure to support tens of thousands of people and then entirely remove it, according to Seacord.
“They are committed to leaving land in impeccable condition, and they have a history of that being acknowledged,” he said.
He said people unsure about the gathering should see what it is like for themselves before passing judgment.