Family members depart leaving the community with mixed feelings
MOUNT TABOR>>The Rainbow Family Gathering in the Green Mountain National Forest has come to an end leaving behind positive and negative thoughts with the community.
One resident of Brooklyn Road, before it turns into Forest Road 10, said the family members were not a nuisance, but that other residents might think differently. Forest Road 10 is a through road that connects to Weston.
"I know people complained about driving through there," Martin Coleman said. "There was a lot of traffic. Hundreds of cars got towed. There was a heavy police presence, but it's died down."
Coleman has lived in his home for 30 years. He recalls the first national gathering at Mount Tabor in the 90's, noting there 'wasn't very many' back then. The community was notified of the gathering at a meeting held at the Mount Tabor Volunteer Fire Department before June. Coleman's wife attended.
Regional gatherings are held monthly for Rainbow Family members, but a national one is held every year on July Fourth to pray for world peace. This is the 45th year.
As of Monday, the U.S. Forest Service reported 10,121 campers, 2,500 cars and 55 buses.
"They haven't really done anything," Coleman said. "I don't know about the impact on that place with that many people though."
Authorities who patrolled the gathering include 23 sworn law enforcement officers from Rutland County Sheriffs, Vermont State Police, Manchester Police Department and the Bennington Police Department, as well as a public information officer, engineers, hydrologists, biologists and foresters to reduce the impact on the forest.
Keith Flaherty, manager of Nichol's Store in Danby didn't have anything negative to say about the Rainbow Family, contrary to what the Mount Tabor Country Store has experienced. Make-shift signs on stores leading up to the site and in surrounding towns request patrons be clothed and to leave backpacks and bags outside the establishment.
"They have not caused me any trouble," Flaherty said. "There's been no shoplifting. They're nice people. I can't say anything bad."
He added that the Mount Tabor store had more issues. The owner declined to comment, however, the Forest Service stated that there has been "confrontations over being asked to provide proof of age to purchase alcohol, urinating and defecating in business parking lots and yards and shoplifting from local general stores." The report didn't specify as to which stores experienced the issues.
Flaherty said his sales increased during June and he catered to the Forest Service's picnic on Monday. He also said law enforcement trucks would pass every half hour and that maybe the presence helped curve negative occurrences.
The Forest Service provided daily updates on the gathering to the community and media throughout the month. Members started to arrive at the beginning of June in preparation of a July 4th ceremony and prayer.
In the final update on Monday, it stated that there was a total of 200 warning and 174 violation notices issued, 114 incident reports or unsolved crimes, and illegal drugs and narcotics that continue to be confiscated from the gathering site. Those in compliance with the state's medical marijuana laws were not charged.
Most notices regard drug and traffic issues due to strict parking regulations. Others include panhandling for food and money, loitering, shoplifting or sleeping in local residents' yards. In Sunday's report, it stated that local medical facilities encountered an increase in requests for treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, believed to be associated with the gathering. The primary drug confiscated was marijuana, an estimated Vermont street value of $367 per ounce. Officers also collected opiates, methamphetamines and hallucinogenic drugs with a high street resale value.
About $500,000 funded officer's salary, equipment, lodging, food and overtime of personnel to patrol the gathering, according to Forest Service public affairs officer, Ethan M. Ready.
The Bennington Police Department was asked to participate in traffic safety enforcement along Route 7, Chief Paul Doucette said.
"My officers, on a voluntary basis have been signing up and have details up on Route 7 in Rutland and Bennington," he told the Banner on June 30. "There's funding out of a highway safety grant to provide traffic safety enforcement. There's no cost to the town of Bennington."
A mass exit has begun as family members depart the forest. A peace walk to Washington, D.C. is expected to ensue on July 8, according to family member David Crockett Williams. It will pass through Bennington on July 10.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.
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