The impact on the forest of the 20,000 members of the Rainbow Family camping in the area around Bear Camp Flat in the Modoc National Forest during June and July was negligible, according to District Ranger Edith S. Asrow of the Warner Mountain Ranger District
"It was pretty amazing to have that many people É (who) just left nothing behind," says Asrow, admitting her initial skepticism. "I É had my doubts. I heard good things about their rehab from other places. But until I saw it myself, I wasn't going to be convinced."
A tour of the occupied area revealed that a thorough and thoughtful job had been done to restore the forest to a near-natural condition. Campsites that once occupied almost every square inch of ground beneath the forest canopy were nearly indistinguishable from the natural, undisturbed forest floor. Using only hand toolsÑprimarily rakes and shovelsÑto restore the nearly 2500-acre site, a few dedicated Rainbows remained after the celebration with the objective of cleaning up
"The last two weeks of cleanup, it was down to about twenty people that were doing the last of what they call Ômicro trash,' where they look for any bottle tops, pieces of paper or any of their pits that weren't buried right," notes Asrow
To the casual observer, it is hard to tell that hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people were ever in that location. Charcoal that marked the remains of campfires that pockmarked the area was removed. Latrine pits were covered and repaired. Numerous oil spots from leaky vehicles were excavated and removed for proper disposal
Nothing was left in the way of trash that is typically left behind by careless campersÑno gum wrappers, no bottle tops and no beer cans
"We easily had probably five or six thousand vehicles. And to be left with no ruts, no damage, no oil spills, all the garbage picked up," Asrow reflects, "É I mean É it's hard for us to find anything left behind."
Tent and camping sites, parking lots and gathering places had been carefully manicured with limbs, brush, leaves and miscellaneous natural material, leaving the distinct impression that they were pristine wilderness
The exception to that rule is the loss of some small growth plants called forbs, some grasses and damage to sagebrush where vehicular and foot traffic had been the greatest, in parking lots and near campsites.
Damage to the sagebrush was clearly visible, but not irreparable since sagebrush is resilient enough to rebound quickly. "Even if you had a couple of acres of sagebrush impacted, with so many thousands of acres of sagebrush in this area, it doesn't have a huge impact on any wildlife population, etcetera," argues Asrow. "So É it will all come back. The sagebrush is pretty hearty."
Asrow does seem intent to minimize the impact that hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people had on a pristine forest. "It will take a few years to repair itself, but it doesn't seem that there'll be any long term damage at all. So, that really was really light on the land."
Conditions at the site were closely monitored before, during and after the gathering, according to Asrow. "We did water quality sampling in certain locations along creeks and springs and (in the) quarry Éjust as the Rainbows were arriving. We continued to do a second set of monitoring and so far have not turned up E. coli. We'll do one last set of monitoring in the quarry, where the swimming was, but the results of the water testing (so far) are good.
"We did soil compaction testing, and didn't find significant soil compaction," continues Asrow. "We did the monitoring of the creeks that were off limits. There was absolutely no use of them."
Although the Rainbow Family offered to provide seed to replant damaged areas, Asrow determined that re-seeding would be a waste of time after a thorough evaluation of the area. "We looked at the plantsÑwhether there was a need to seed some of the trails. We decided that there wasn't enough need for seed, that the natural vegetation was still vigorous and existent enough to reoccupy the trails."
Several vehicles were left behind as the celebrants exited the forest, adding to the chores of the cleanup crew. "They removed all the abandoned vehicles off the site," notes Asrow. Three of them now sit at the Likely transfer station, awaiting disposition.
All in all, the cleanup crew spent almost a month rehabilitating the site. "They were gone by August first, which was the end of their permit," observes Asrow.
A skeptic at first, Asrow admits to having a change of heart about the core Rainbow group that did the cleanup. "The people that stayed behind to do the rehab, I really felt were heroes for the gathering. It was a 20,000-person party, and they took care of all the cleanup. So, that was really a contribution, and I told them that."