Heber City • The Rainbow Gathering has prompted worries and optimism among Heber Valley residents who met Wednesday with representatives of the "10,000 hippies pooping in the woods."
But a cautious welcome was extended in the meeting, where discussion of the communal camp-out’s public impact was punctuated by fiddle numbers and a meditation circle.
Defendant in court
Prosecutors may file additional charges against the 32-year-old woman who allegedly stabbed a man in the head and shoulder at the Rainbow Family Gathering.
Wednesday morning, Leilani Novak-Garcia, who people at the gathering called “Hitler,” arrived for her initial appearance in the 4th District Court. Novak-Garcia is charged with attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a 45-year-old man who was trying to get her to stop honking her car horn.
In addition to the attempted murder charge, a second degree felony, Wasatch County prosecutor McCay King said his office may be pursuing additional charges against Novak-Garcia for allegedly assaulting an individual with a tire iron.
"If I lived in Heber, and this ... crew were coming through my town, I’d be scared as hell because they’d be so different than the people in my community," said Rainbow Gathering participant Gary Stubbs. "Anbody that has fears, I don’t blame you. But when you get to know us, you’ll find out we’re just people like everyone else."
Clean-up, sanitation and safety were the top concerns of residents — particularly in light of a stabbing early Monday as a few hundred campers prepared for next week’s gathering, estimated at 6,000 to 10,000 people.
"My issue comes from the numbers of neighbors that we’re getting," said Heber City resident Debbie Bunker. "How do you handle the garbage that’s generated? What’s the [toilet] situation? We have a watershed with a spring underneath the mountain you’re staying on. What ... is it going to cost the residents of this valley when we get the [police] budget ... and find out we’re way over because we enjoyed your company?"
Stubbs noted that the U.S. Forest Service has permitted the annual event because the group hasn’t damaged its sites in more than 40 years. Volunteers bring out bags of garbage and reseed any new footpaths, he said.
"We’ve got a whole lot of activist environmentalists who would not tolerate leaving a mess behind," Stubbs said.
Safety is more complicated. A transient woman faces charges of attempted murder in Monday’s stabbing. Leilani Novak-Garcia, 32, who goes by the nickname "Hitler," also is being investigated for possible assault charges since police received reports that she attacked someone with a tire iron — but witnesses at the Rainbow Gathering have not been been forthcoming, said deputy Wasatch County attorney McCay King.
"My concern is that there were several witnesses who are not cooperating with law enforcement, who are refusing to identify themselves," King said. "I would hope that would encourage those people to step forward."
The group tries to handle smaller incidents with a team of "peacekeepers" who mediate in conflicts, participants said.
Several Heber residents and business owners attended to show support for the Rainbow Gathering.
"Everybody that’s come to our business has just been wonderful," said Darryl Bosshardt, who owns Real Foods Market. "They haven’t peed on the produce or anything like that."
Others spoke to the event’s spiritual nature. Duane Erickson, of Evanston, Wyo., choked back tears as he described friendships he made with gathering participants after he offered them a ride to the site.
"It was one of the greatest experiences of love I’ve ever [had]," he said, comparing it to church experiences. In response to rumors that the group is a "cult," Stubbs said many religions are represented in the group and invited missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to attend and share testimonies.
Heber City resident Doyle Gardner said he came to the meeting "to separate fact from fiction," noting that rumors about the gathering had catapulted around the valley and beyond — including claims that women from the gathering went into a Heber shop and took off their shirts while men removed cartloads of merchandise.
"The one thing all humans fear is the unknown," Gardner said. "I want to thank you for at least holding this [meeting]."
The bulk of participants are expected to arrive Tuesday and leave Saturday, Stubbs said. The camp is on Forest Service Road 191 east of Heber City in the Uinta National Forest.
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