Posted: Jul 2, 2013 10:19 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
Updated: Jul 3, 2013 10:22 AM
The Rainbow Gathering near Jackson, Montana in the Beaverhead National Forest is drawing both criticism and acceptance from area residents.
There are about 7,000 self proclaimed hippies camping out in tents and teepees. They have come from all over the nation as part of the annual event.
Beaverhead County Commissioner Tom Rice says the gathering has already cost the county around $26,000 and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
"There is frustration among the locals cause in a sense they aren't paying their own way, plain and simple," Rice explains. "They aren't paying their own way. They come here on the dole and they will leave the same way."
The county is forced to increase taxes on its residents in order to deal with the increased costs in garbage, sanitation, and law enforcement.
But the local hospital, Barrett Healthcare, is taking the biggest financial hit with more than $100,000 in unpaid medical bills for providing care to nearly 50 uninsured rainbow family members.
The Beaverhead Ambulance Service is also struggling to pay $30,000 in additional costs to provide service to the gathering area.
Dillon Mayor Marty Malesich says the city hasn't taken a financial hit but there is a definite change in atmosphere.
"I think their first reaction is to avoid them because it is something different. It's not something that we normally see," Malesich says. "So [the locals] are a little apprehensive. But all in all I have found that they are very interesting to talk to and they are very polite and respectful."
While many local have differing opinions about what the gathering means to the area, many of the Rainbow people are trying to minimize those concerns.
Ethan is a small business owner in Berkely, California and has been coming to Rainbow gatherings for six years. He says for the most part the people that come are not trying to cause problems.
"The people who are most interested in getting free tobacco and alcohol tend to hand around the front gate so often that is the first experience people have," Ethan says. "These are not bad people, they are just homeless people that live on the road."
Ethan says he understands that these people are some of the reasons that the Rainbow gathering has historically gotten such a bad reputation. But he says as people get further into camp the majority of the Rainbow family is there just to share in a community experience.
Oliver, a 17 year old Rainbow member, says many of the young people are wild but he is trying to change that culture.
"This is the rainbow. There are all kinds of people here. There in no controlling who comes," Oliver explains. "I am not going to drink and I am not going to be rambunctious and I am going to try and encourage people to be peaceful and gentle and kind to each other."