The Rainbow Gathering has come and gone, for the most part.
More than 13,000 people descended on Flagtail Meadow on the Malheur National Forest south of John Day last week for the annual gathering surrounding a July 4 prayer for peace. As of Monday, only 785 remained to clean up and repair the site.
Forest Service resource specialists will meet with the cleanup crew to ensure the rehabilitation is up to federal standards, and the goal is to return the site to as close to original conditions as possible, according to a Monday update from the Forest Service. Officials said previously, regardless of the group’s intent to leave the land better than they found it, ecosystem damage would be inevitable from so many people in such a small area.
The event was not only taxing on the environment. Over the last several weeks, local public safety personnel have responded to a variety of incidents from medical emergencies to shoplifting to violence.
Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer said his deputies and others have been “running nonstop” with few days off since mid-June.
“Mental health has just been slammed. The ambulance has been swamped. The hospital has been swamped. The jail has been swamped,” he said. “And the locals end up paying for it all. It comes out of our local tax base.”
Palmer said two people died at the event: George Ernest Rogers III, 43, of Dumas, Texas, and William Pasko, 74, of Takoma Park, Maryland. Pasko died of natural causes from a heart attack July 3.
Rogers collapsed near a makeshift medical station at the gathering July 2. Palmer spent several days trying to identify the man and track down his family.
Stabbings and beatings also occurred at the event, Palmer said.
As of Monday, 15 arrests were made, and 117 violation notices were issued, according to the Forest Service.
Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said about a quarter of the arrests were felonies. About half of the violations were related to traffic or vehicle offenses, he said, and about a quarter were related to drugs. Other violations were related to alcohol, officer interference, fires, and forest roads and trails.
The Department of Justice and the U.S. Forest Service Office of General Council conducted three mobile court sessions near the event site, and most of the people showed up to address their federal tickets. The mobile courts help alleviate the load on the local court system.
Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter said his office was not inundated with cases as he was told to expect. Law enforcement officers were very busy, he said, but most cases were resolved without criminal charges. The DA’s office has had fewer than 15 cases related to the Rainbow Gathering, primarily for intoxicated driving, disorderly conduct and shoplifting.
“The sheer magnitude and volume at such a gathering will attract a certain percentage of people that cause problems,” he said. “For the most part, the Rainbow Family has been good at self-policing and taking care of their own. ... My primary objectives for the event were community safety and law enforcement safety, and we’ve been pretty successful at accomplishing both.”
Carpenter said he is considering accepting one juvenile case from Forest Service law enforcement, and he has accepted two cases from them involving the possession of controlled substances.
Palmer said a large amount of drugs — LSD, heroin, cocaine, marijuana — were confiscated at the event. He said he was particularly surprised by the amount of LSD, a hallucinogenic.
“From what I saw from the Forest Service law enforcement, I don’t ever want to experience another Rainbow,” Palmer said. “I would never wish this on anybody. I don’t think this is the Rainbow the founders envisioned.”