For a while, it seemed that the Rainbow Family might choose Ochoco National Forest for its huge national gathering this summer.
But the U.S. Forest Service recently announced that the event, which draws up to 30,000 people, will actually take place on a different, but nearby forest. According to the announcement, the Rainbow Family has chosen to hold its gathering on the Malheur National Forest, on the Blue Mountain Ranger District. The gathering site will be located at the Flagtail Meadow off of Forest Service Road 24, near the towns of John Day and Seneca. Participants have already begun to arrive, and officials expect the attendance to peak the week of July 4.
The Rainbow Family is a loose-knit group of people without leadership or organization who participate in a national gathering once a year. Attendees come from across the country, and since 1972 the event has taken place on a different national forest during a two-week period surrounding the Fourth of July holiday.
"We are working closely with the local community to raise awareness about the event and plan accordingly before the majority of participants arrive," said Ryan Nehl, agency administrator and Malheur National Forest deputy forest supervisor. "Ensuring public safety, minimizing impacts to local communities, and protecting natural resources will be our top priorities."
Because of the magnitude of this event, the Forest Service has established an incident management team consisting of natural resource specialists, law enforcement officers, health and safety coordinators, and community liaisons. The incident management team is coordinating closely with county officials and law enforcement officers to provide for public safety and resource protection.
The gathering will take place under the conditions and guidelines provided through a Forest Service Operating Plan addressing public health and safety concerns, minimizing impacts to natural resources, and outlining post-event rehabilitation procedures.
Once the incident management has established its official command post, contact phone numbers will be provided so that members of the public, business owners, and visitors can ask questions and share concerns.
While the gathering will not take place on the Ochoco National Forest, as it did in 1997, local law enforcement officials said community residents and business leaders can expect Rainbow Family members to pass through Prineville and Crook County on their way east to the gathering site.
Crook County Emergency Manager Michael Ryan pointed out that the primary travel route goes through Prineville and out through Paulina. He went on to stress that business owners should keep a close eye on their inventory and facilities.
"With the Rainbow Family, if you are a food service organization, like a grocery store or a corner store like 7-Eleven, pay special attention to your produce sections, meats and vegetables — things like that," Ryan said. "They have a habit of doing things like poking their finger in the meat packages, which forces you to discard them in the garbage can. Then they promptly go outside and retrieve it."
Prineville Police Chief Dale Cummins similarly addressed local business owners in an open letter. He noted that Prineville will likely see a record number of people in town and a subsequent uptick in criminal activity.
"I would encourage all local business owners to be vigilant for the next few months and consider taking precautionary measures to help reduce your exposure to theft and/or damage," he stated.
Cummins urged business owners to not leave merchandise outside, especially overnight, lock doors not used for regular public access, and secure dumpsters to discourage people from going through them.
"Use additional security and/or talk to employees about being more aware of suspicious activity," Cummins added. "If you provide customer restrooms, check them on a regular basis for suspicious activity."
Ryan stressed people should not try to engage with Rainbow Family members if they should become problematic in any way.
"Just call 911," he said.