A year later, Rainbows' campsite hardly a pot of gold

Minneapolis, MN
Star Tribune
May 30, 1991

by Pat Doyle
Staff Writer

They flocked to the Superior National Forest to proclaim respect for the environment and to live in harmony with nature.

Nearly a year after their celebration the U.S. Forest Service wants organizers of the Rainbow Family festival to return - this time to finish cleaning up their mess.

Communing with nature, it seems didn't come naturally to some festivalgoeers.

They tossed cigarette butts and plastic twist ties on the ground, dumped glass bottles and metal spoons in compost pits, abandoned a 200-gallon water tank and left latrines uncovered, according to the Forest Service.

Moreover, the ways ofthe north woods were mysterious to many people from around the country who came to the 19th annual national Rainbow festival, held last July north of Tofte.

So foreign was the northeastern Minnesota environment that some campers neglected to hand food packs in trees. When black bears tore through packs left on the ground, some Rainbows blew conch shells to alert their companions. The bears didn't mind the sound.

"One bear got so many Snickers baars he wasn't going to be run off for anything," said Larry Dawson, ranger for the Forest Service's Tofte district.

"These weren't north woods people who showed up there," acknowledged Warren Farber, a Rainbow Family member from New Hampshire. "They were mostly city folks. You should see their jaws drop when they show up in a rural area. These are people who say water comes out of a faucet and you leave your trash at the curb on Wednesday."

The festival was organized largely by Garrick Beck, a New Youk City resident who makes jewelry and teaches gardening. Beck, a founder of the Rainbows 20 years ago, said he's hung food packs during other camping trips but believes that the large gathering at the festival made such precautions unneccessary.

"I don't get the gist of this hanging-the-pack business," he said.

The condition of the forest remains an issue because festival organizers vowed last summer to leave the site as clean as they found it. But htey left without working out one detail, who does the cleaning.

"Everyone thought someone else was taking care of it," Beck said.

He promised this week that a crew of Rainbows would head up the North Shore as early as this weekend to pick up remaining litter, bury latrines and otherwise tidy up the 600-acre site near Barker Lake. "I will come up to Minnesota myself rather than go tho the next Rainbow if that stuff isn't cleaned up," he said. This summer's festival is scheduled for the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Dawson is skeptical of assurances "They've been promising to come back," he said, "but htey've been promising to come back sonce Christmas." Rainbow members are "very apologetic about the whole thing, but apologies haven't cleaned it up."

As a result ofthe Minnesota experience, the Rainbow Family, which Beck describes as a "word-of-mouth, ad hoc operation," is for the first time considering written guidelines for composting and other activities. The family is a loose network of latter-day hippies, self-styled conservationists and people who think crystals hold special powers. "Our basic relationship is with the Earth," Beck said. "Our whole effort is to teach respect for the Earth."

However, he insists that the debris is no big deal considering the size of the crowd, estimated at 13,000 people over several weeks. The group hauled most of its garbage away at the endofthe festival. As for the junk that remains, Beck blames Minnesota members of the Rainbow Family for not cleaning it up. "Those folks out in Minnesota, they really loused up," he said.

But Dawson said Minnesotans who don't belong to the Rainbow Family hauled away the water tank and some pipes last fall. He said as many as 60 "compost' bins remain. "Every one I saw had nonbiodegradable stuff - broken bottles, spoons, plastic sacks," he said. The bears also spread the mess by pawing around containers in the compost bins.

Moreover, there are open latrines, sacks of a power resembling lime, a pile of lumber and two 5-gallon buckets. He ssays the junk is obvious to anyone walking a few yards into the area, designated for primitive camping. Elsewhere, twist ties and many plastic bags that weren't picked up last fall remainburied under leaves. "It's just part of the environment now," Dawson said.

The Forest Service isn't the only one waiting for action. Jim Norvell, owner of a tiny convenience store in Schroeder, is trying to get the Rainbows to pay $415 for a store sign that was damaged by a bus driven by festivalgoers. He sent an estimaate of the damage to Beck. "The amount he wants is excessive," Beck said. "We don't like getting taken for a ride." And a local hospital says the Rainbow Family owes it about $3,000 for medical expenses it promised to cover, but Beck said the group never authorized the expenses.


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