Rainbows make good on promise to clean up Forest Service hands out final grade today

By Emily Simnitt

The Idaho Statesman

On Friday, the last of 20,000 countercultural nature lovers who camped in Bear Valley during a 10-day gathering and a Fourth of July meditation for peace drove out of Cache Meadow for the final time.

As they promised, there wasn't much left behind. There is no visible trash in the valley. The firepits and slit trench latrines are filled in and covered with a mixture of rotting tree bark and dirt. The incessant drumbeats have been replaced by lowing cattle recently put to pasture in the area.

Today, Walt Rogers, Boise National Forest district ranger, will give the Rainbow Family of Living Light cleanup crew a final grade.

He gives the gatherers high marks for avoiding sensitive areas in Bear Valley Creek that are key for threatened salmon.

"All initial indications are the salmon habitat and spawning areas were protected in Bear Valley Creek," Rogers said. "We met our one goal. That was the line in the sand. We had to protect that at all costs, and it was protected."

Rogers has been walking the area about three times a week since the followers began packing up shortly after the Fourth of July. He has taken his global positioning system with him and mapped areas covered with toilet paper and kitchens not cleaned up to his satisfaction.

He gave the maps to the cleanup crew -- which numbered about 20 in the final week -- and told them where to direct their efforts.

This week, he gave the area a final walk-through.

"Things will go on," Rogers said. "A lot of the vegetation will probably recover by next year."

But some of it might not.

Rangers are closing the road into Cache Meadow this week for the rest of the year. They hope that between now and September, fall rains and rest will allow grass and other vegetation to push its way through the compacted ruts cut by thousands of converted buses, vans and other Rainbow follower vehicles.

It will take at least a couple of years to restore the two meadows fully, Rogers said.

It may take some help from the rangers, too.

This fall, Rogers plans to seed the most heavily damaged areas. Rangers also may have to dig up portions of the roads created in Cache Meadow to get the seeding to take.

Rogers said he will send the bill for that work to designated Rainbow Family followers.

Badjer, a Rainbow gatherer who said he would be the last to leave the area, said the family already paid $1,200 to have a trash-filled bin hauled out.

A few Rainbow followers are holding cash collected at the gathering and will make a donation to the Forest Service to cover the cost of reseeding the area, Badjer said.

Corey, a Rainbow cleanup crew member from Portland admitted last week the cleanup crew's efforts might not be enough. On Friday, he carried around a large bucket filled with duff -- a mixture of dirt and rotting tree bark -- to cover up filled in firepits and other disturbed areas.

Earlier he helped aerate one of the battered paths from Cache Meadow into the camping area in Sack Meadow and cover it with logs to keep future feet -- both human and bovine -- from making it worse.

"It's basically just like gardening," Corey said. "We're helping the Earth to grow back."

Already the plants are returning.

Rain a couple of weeks ago spurred small tufts of green grass to sprout through the compacted dirt once trampled by 40,000 bare and sandal-clad feet. Many of the kitchens are hard to spot unless you know where they were.

Athena, a cleanup crew member who camped in Bear Valley for about a month, said that while the cleanup crew lacks the rowdiness of the gathering, its members still have had a good time.

Athena has been filling in slit trenches and inspecting former kitchen sites where gatherers once stoked huge campfires and washed dishes.

Where campers at the kitchens didn't fill in their firepits or left trash, Athena and other cleanup-crew members stepped in to clean up after their less responsible brothers and sisters.

"This is one of my peeves," Athena said as she spotted and retrieved a minuscule cigarette butt from a former campsite.

Athena's T-shirt says, "People say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." She wears her thick hair braided down her back.

After a long day cleaning up the woods, she said she would head for nearby hot springs.

Like Athena, many of the cleanup crew camped in the valley for more than a month. A dip in the hot springs became a nightly ritual.

"It's been fun," said Athena, who is from Pittsburgh. "To be outside in the woods, to go to sleep under the stars, to watch things grow back -- it doesn't get much better than that."

To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Emily Simnitt at esimnitt@idahostatesman.com or 377-6427.