UPDATE: (Wednesday, July 1, 5:45 p.m.) – Attendance is growing for the Rainbow Family of Living Light gathering outside of Lucile, with Forest Service officials estimating attendance at now more than 500 visitors. A closure order put into effect this morning is not shutting down the event, but rather redirecting visitor traffic to for public safety and resource protection issues.
“We felt it was for the best interest of the public and inholdings in that area,” according to public information officer Julie Thomas, in the interest of protecting private properties, as well as permittees who have cattle there.
As of Wednesday morning, July 1, the Nez Perce-Clearwater implemented a closure order for Forest Service Road 242 (Cow Creek Road), beginning three-tenths of one mile north of the intersection of U.S. Highway 95 and FS Road 242.
According to the order, signed by forest supervisor Cheryl Probert, the closure is for the purpose of public health and safety, and to protect national forest property and resources. Exemptions are for official personnel (such as police and firefighting) and those persons with a mailing address within the closed area.
“The Rainbow people are going in a different way,” Thomas said, and a reader sign is in place, at least for Wednesday, making note of the closure situation.
No issues have been reported at the gathering, according to Thomas, and while she hasn’t been to the location, in checking the group’s Facebook postings, she said at this time they look to be “camping out and having fun.”
“What we’re going to do,” she continued, “is continue to monitor where they’re at right now, and do the best we can for our employees and our communities to make sure they are safe. We’ll take it each day as it comes.”
On attendance, forest officials believe the event will be significantly less in attendance than those in past years, such as one held in Georgia that drew 20,000 attendees.
“A lot of the members are against this group being here,” Thomas said. “They didn’t want to meet here due to COVID and other things that were going on,” adding they don’t expect to see the large number as associated with past national events.
LUCILE – Forest Service officials are estimating attendance, as of Monday, at more than 300 visitors to a growing gathering for the upcoming Rainbow Family of Living Light event set for the July 4 holiday.
The event is to be held on Forest Service Road 241, approximately eight miles outside the community of Lucile. The Forest Service expects the gathering to last through the July 4 weekend, after which, several Rainbow Family members will stay on site for several weeks to work on cleanup and rehabilitation.
The Rainbow Family is described as a loose-knit group of people without leadership or organization who gather on national forests to discuss political and environmental issues, pray for world peace, and celebrate life. Since 1972, the event has taken place on a different national forest during the Fourth of July holiday.
“The Forest Service is prepared to manage the event with an incident management team consisting of various resource and law enforcement specialists,” according to public information officer Julie Thomas, in a prepared release. “We are communicating with local law enforcement, communities, and other agencies in communities that may be selected for the gathering to identify local concerns and needs that could be affected by a gathering of this size.”
The agency stated it would keep affected communities informed as information becomes available, and that “public safety, impacts to communities, and resource protection are our top priorities.”
Attendance for these events can range from 5,000 to 7,000, according to information from the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office. This year’s event attendance may be down from past years due to concerns with COVID-19.
To that health concern, the Forest Service is working on Idaho Rebound state 4 procedures that recommend social distancing (at least six feet between individuals), frequent handwashing, covering coughs, staying home if sick, and wearing face masks.
In social media postings, concerns have been raised on the gathering’s impact to not only public health (such as with COVID and basic sanitation) but also to safety, as regards crime and illegal drug use, and potential environmental damage.
According to Shelley Neal, whose ranching family operates a grazing permit for more than 500 head in the vicinity, she and her husband, Garrett, have not experienced problems, so far. They have driven through the gathering site – an approximate mile-long area from Cow Creek Saddle to Iron Phone Campground – and been greeted friendly by attendees. The camp has expanded from Iron Phone to the north, south and west along the roadways.
“We’re just starting to move [cattle] up there,” she said. Their concern is for property and ranch hand safety. They have a cow camp on the Snake River side, which is in close proximity to the gathering. The Neals are holding off on moving up into the location, as well as having a hired person stay on at the camp cabin, until this activity is passed.
One aggravation in this for Neal is no one with the Forest Service has contacted them, in advance of this activity or at present, regarding the gathering.
“Never once has any Forest Service supervisor or ranger, or anyone, told us these folks were coming to our area,” she said. “I don’t think that’s quite right. They could have given us a heads-up, worked with us on different strategies on how to manage cows with this going on, but nothing.”