A meeting hosted by members of the Rainbow Gathering and attended by Grant County residents got heated Wednesday night.
Within minutes, the meeting at the Canyon City Community Hall briefly dissolved into a yelling match between residents and several of the roughly 2,000 attendees already at the site south of John Day preparing for the July 1-7 Rainbow Gathering.
John Day resident Ken Mayhead demanded to know how the gathering would benefit residents and the community. He complained about the large numbers of law enforcement officers brought to town and the burden placed on taxpayers by the event.
“Taxpayers are cleaning up your mess,” Mayhead said.
Rainbow attendee Gary Stubbs said the gathering purchased large quantities of food, fuel and camping equipment locally and estimated the gathering could bring as much as $300,000 into the local economy. He also said the number of law enforcement and government employees who were in town to monitor the event would also rent rooms and eat locally.
Other residents raised fears about the gathering consuming all the food and fuel in the area. Rainbow attendees said they were working with wholesalers in the Bend area to get large quantities of food and advised local businesses to anticipate heightened demand for food and fuel in the coming weeks.
Resident Kay Steele said gathering in the forest would put stress on local wildlife and disperse them into surrounding areas.
Stubbs agreed the wildlife would be stressed and dispersed but said the ecosystem was likely to bounce back.
To attempt to assuage fears about what would be left in the wake of the gathering, Rainbow attendee Adam Finch Buxbaum read a letter from the Forest Service about the 1997 Rainbow Gathering near Prineville. The letter, from Big Summit District Ranger Susan V. Skalski, praised the Rainbow Family for their cleanup job of the forest.
Residents urged the gatherers to keep attendees respectful and stop them from being a public nuisance, citing incidents of public indecency and petty theft.
A resident brought up concerns the gathering was bringing drugs and problems related to substance abuse into the area and said she no longer felt safe walking at night.
Stubbs said some of the people gathering were drug users, but the gathering was dedicated to helping people. He described Serenity Ridge, a drug- and alcohol-free camp at the gathering, which holds 12-step meetings.
One major concern voiced by people was attendees from the gathering staying until the eclipse in August. The attendees at the meeting said they could not speak for the group, but the general sentiment was that many at the gathering would be going to the Oregon Country Fair near Veneta in early July.
Residents also asked why the group chose a forest near a community that had recently been ravaged by wildfire. Rainbow participants acknowledged the Canyon Creek Complex fire and said, because they mostly cooked with fires and wood stoves, they actually helped eliminate fire danger by removing downed wood.
Multiple attendees asserted it was their constitutional right to assemble on public land.
Resident Susan Church said a great part of the fear was due to xenophobia. She said the local community had problems with crime and substance abuse just like the Rainbow Gathering.
Gathering participant Eloisa Lewis said attendees rented the hall to communicate with locals and to try to get them involved. She said the meeting had been “lukewarm” and that both sides seemed afraid of each other.
Lewis extended an invitation to all unsure about the gathering to come see for themselves at the site off Forest Road 24 in the Malheur National Forest west of Seneca.
The Forest Service is hosting a public meeting from 5-6:30 p.m. Friday, June 23, at the Malheur National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 431 Patterson Bridge Road, John Day.