Rainbow Gathering site returning to normal, 1 year later


BUTTE, Mont. - It's been a year since the Rainbow Family's annual gathering in southwest Montana and we wanted to know if the gathering left a lasting impact on the forest.

Last summer, more than 10,000 people gathered about 10 miles Southwest of Jackson near Saginaw Creek in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

Outdoor Recreation Planner John Ericson will never forget seeing thousands of people in the meadow.

"The entire meadow was circled with people holding hands," said Ericson.

Ericson showed NBC Montana the spot in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest, where the Rainbow Family camped out for about three weeks.

He said what he feared most is what they'd leave behind -- like camp fire remains, soil damage and trash. But we didn't find that to be the case.

While what they left behind may look like a mess to some, turn's out it isn't. After the Rainbow Gathering, a group stayed behind to lay debris down on the ground that had been heavily impacted. The debris helps restore the soil by keeping seeds and moisture in place.

"They come back and bring in debris -- branches, twigs, pine needles -- and try and restore the trails to kind of a natural condition the best they can," said Ericson.

Along the trail, Ericson explained how constant foot traffic made the trails grow at least a foot wider.

"That will take a while to grow back in," he said. "And the places where they had kitchens and large gatherings, those were sorely impacted."

We didn't have to look far to see that, Ericson pointed out where one of those places stood just a year ago.

"There was a whole wall of saplings and or small sticks and the big spirit house entrance was here," said Ericson.

Ericson said it'll take about five years for the grass to grow back, but it could take decades for what is below the surface to decomposeand return to what it was.

"They did a great job picking up trash and so forth," said Ericson. "They've restored the sites to precondition as best they could and the impacts look to be pretty minimal."

Bottom line, there are still signs the Rainbow Family gathered there -- but for Ericson, he is pleasantly surprised to see the forest coming back.