From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 27 - July 3, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Torrey Vent, from Olympia, Wash., took a break in town from spending time out at Big Sandy.
Local reaction mixed on Rainbow Gathering

by Jennie Oemig

As more and more members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light make their way to the area for the annual Rainbow Gathering, which began July 1 at Dutch Joe Guard Station near the Big Sandy River, locals have expressed mixed feelings about the event. Sublette County Chamber Director Terrie Swift said that the town is seeing less in the way of numbers than what was originally projected.

“I have been pleasantly surprised at the actual number of people versus the projections that we heard in the beginning,” she said. “There was talk of 15,000 – 20,000 people in the first part of June and this week we are able to get a firmer grasp on what the actual numbers will be and thankfully they are considerably lower than anticipated.”

And according to Karin Zirk’s Wyoming Rainbow Gathering blog, the size of the group currently at the Dutch Joe Guard Station is smaller than what they had anticipated as well.

“It’s surprising how few people are currently onsite,” states the June 29 entry. “ … Population seems sparse and less than expected as does the quantities of cars coming in per hour.”

Though they have been experiencing different issues this year, Zirk’s blog entry states that the Rainbows are having a good time so far.

Garrett Roush and Julie Starling came from Hawaii through Seattle to gather at Big Sandy. Their group had previously convened with a Rainbow Gathering in Hawaii.
“Other than the horrendous hike in, the altitude sickness, the missing locals, and the difficulty in finding a vegetarian meal at times, there is an awesome Gathering happening,” the entry states.

Regardless of how many or how few people attend, Swift said she sees the Gathering as a benefit to the local economy, as well as those attending the event.

“The local businesses have had to make adjustments in their day-to-day operations to accommodate for the influx of people; those adjustments have varied quite considerably,” she said. “On behalf of the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce, it is the hope that the people participating in this festival will spend in our local shops, be respectful of our community, learn about the history and sense of place our area holds and leave the land better than they found it.”

But Swift said there is still the chance of the Gathering having some negative impacts on the community.

“I feel that this festival, much like any other large group of people, you will have the bad apples of the bunch,” she said. “The Sublette County Chamber of Commerce has not fielded any negative complaints from any of our members so far.”

Rock Rabbit owner Dan Abernathy said he has been impressed with what he has seen of the Rainbows so far.

“I think it’s been blown out of proportion,” he said. “Because we live in Pinedale, we’re kind of secluded from reality … The people that have been exposed to them have no problem with them.”

And while there has been a lot of talk circulating about the group stealing and panhandling, Abernathy said he has not had any problems with them in his shop.

“We get them in here every day,” he said.

“They don’t drop a lot of money like the tourists, but we embrace them and welcome them with open arms.”

Abernathy even recalled an occurrence when several Rainbow members utilized the facilities inside the coffee shop.

“I made it a point to watch them when they left,” he said, recollecting that they were in the bathroom for quite some time. “When I went into the restroom, it was immaculate. They cleaned and wiped the sinks down … The only thing that was different was the reserve of toilet paper.”

While Rock Rabbit has not experienced many problems with the group, the same cannot be said for Ridley’s Family Market.

“[We’ve experienced] a little bit of increased business, some irritated customers, some shoplifting,” said Ridley’s employee L.J. Hurley, adding that for the most part the Rainbows’ presence has been negative.

Being the director at the Chamber, Swift said she has seen and assisted many Rainbows on their way to the Gathering.

“We have been able to give people heading to the festival useful information about Sublette County and basic leave no trace behind principles,” she said. “We were originally anticipating much larger numbers than we have seen so far which gave us a chance to be overly prepared. The volume of people that we have helped so far is considerably lower than anticipated so we have felt very prepared.”

One of Sublette County Commissioner John Linn’s major concerns has been the noticeable increase in traffic along Highway 353.

“I’m sure that has impacted some of the local people,” he said.

Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman said that while the Gathering is taking place, he expects officers to continue their job of serving and protecting the community.

“Our local county law enforcement, their main focus is on the safety of the citizens in the county,” he said. “They’re not directly involved with going in the camp and enforcing drug laws or whatever in the camp itself.”

Judging from past experiences with the group, Linn said he doesn’t anticipate many issues this time around.

“Last time they were here, they were good to their word,” he said. “They left the campsite that they used up in the Wyoming Range in Snyder Basin better than they found it … If they handle this situation like the way they did that one, I can’t really see a lot of problems with them down the road.”

Photo credits:  Jonathan Van Dyke, Jonathan Van Dyke

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