The Rainbow Family has started preparing its gathering site on the Malheur National Forest, where 10,000-30,000 people are expected to gather in the coming weeks.
The Rainbow gathering is held annually on public lands, hosted by a loosely organized group that refers to itself as the Rainbow Family. First started as a prayer for world peace in 1972, individuals from around the world gather to pray for peace on the July 4.
The gathering this year will be held south of John Day in the Flagtail area on the Malheur. Off Forest Road 24, a large parking area is set up in a meadow. From there, attendees will walk roughly one mile to the main camp area in another meadow. Gatherers are expected continue to trickle in throughout the month.
A number of wood-fired kitchens are being set up to feed the hundreds already at the site. Plans to route a nearby spring to the main camp area are in place. Piping the springs to the campground is an attempt to protect the riparian areas around the springs, according to gathering attendee Mark Squire.
People from all walks of life attend the gathering, which is non-denominational and non-discriminatory.
Attendee Gary Stubbs described it as “a cross section of America.” Stubbs said the gathering was a healing place, and those in attendance could expect to see people ranging from doctors and lawyers to hippies.
In order to keep the peace, a system called shanta sena is used. In the event of an incident, “shanta sena” is called out, and everyone within earshot who is willing and able to respond does so, according to attendee Karin Zirk.
The goal is to form a circle and begin a discussion about the incident and try to reach a solution. However, Zirk admits sometimes shanta sena is not enough to solve all issues — a stabbing occurred at a Rainbow gathering meeting June 10 — and members of the group are willing to work with law enforcement.
Local public safety officials have been gearing up for the influx of visitors.
The Forest Service has a Type 3 incident management team arriving Saturday, staffed with law enforcement, management, operations, planning, public information and safety personnel, according to Agency Administrator Ryan Nehl of the Malheur National Forest. An additional 30-40 Forest Service law enforcement officers will arrive Sunday.
An interdisciplinary team of forest resource experts was at the site Friday, developing a plan to protect the land and marking off sensitive resources, such as streams, plants and cultural areas.
Nehl said the Forest Service is aware of political differences between the Rainbow Family and Grant County residents but recommended people not be confrontational. He said the number of visitors will also spread local resources thin.
“The county is 7,500 people, and we’re expecting an influx of 20,000,” he said. “The amount of burden on resources will be high.”
He said Forest Service law enforcement officers are limited to forest issues, so people would have to contact Oregon State Police, Grant County Sheriff’s Office or John Day Police Department for issues arising outside the forest.
Rebekah Rand, director of Emergency Medical Services and the Hospital Emergency Preparedness Program for Blue Mountain Hospital District, said plans for extra coverage are in place. She said the goal is to avoid any delays in ambulance service to provide “the very best EMS coverage” for the community. She said people should also be generally aware.
“When there’s increased traffic, there’s an increased volume of people, so just make sure to lock your vehicles and be mindful of your surroundings,” she said. “And if there’s any concern, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re concerned about something, whether that’s medical or fire or police, never hesitate to call us.”
The Grant County Sheriff’s Office had not responded to a call seeking information when this article was published.