Busy weekend predicted

Rainbow gathering not likely to hurt lodging numbers

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— Tourism in Steamboat is expected to rebound sharply this weekend after a somewhat sluggish start to the summer season.

The Lodging Barometer, published by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, predicts that 9,900 people will check into area lodges and hotels Saturday. That's up 2,200 from June 25, 2005.

U.S. Forest Service officials on Thursday denied a special-use permit that would allow Rainbow Family of Living Light members to gather on national forest land in northern Routt County. The permit application was turned in Wednesday, two days after Forest Service officials began issuing citations to Rainbow Family members camping in the Big Red Park area, about 35 miles north of Steamboat Springs. Special-use permits are required for groups of 75 people or larger. As many as 20,000 people are expected to attend the annual Rainbow Family gathering for peace. Forest Service officials estimate that about 2,000 people already are in the national forest area selected by Rainbow gatherers as the site for the event, which will be July 1 to 7. The Forest Service reported two primary reasons for denying the special-use permit application. First, the area proposed for the site of the gathering is accessed by one road and doesn't provide sufficient access points in the event of an emergency such as a wildfire, according to a Forest Service news release. Forest Service officials report that 60 percent to 70 percent of the trees in the area of the gathering are dead or dying from the extensive beetle epidemic, posing a significant fire threat. Second, the Forest Service reported that the Rainbow Family gathering poses conflicts with forest uses for businesses that have priority permits and activities planned in the area during the same time as the proposed Rainbow event.

The barometer shows a similar number of people are expected to visit next weekend compared to last year. The barometer forecasts 9,400 people will be here for the weekend before the Fourth of July.

Chamber spokeswoman Riley Polumbus said it is hard to explain why there is an increase in tourism this weekend. She pointed out Triple Crown Sports has 20 more teams coming into town this weekend than last year for tournaments. The Rodeo Series also kicks off today.

"Summer is getting going, and this is one of those weekends when people are heading up to the mountains," Polumbus said.

There are people in town to assist with the Rainbow Family gathering that is taking place 35 miles north of Steamboat Springs. The gathering, which is expected to bring as many as 20,000 people into Routt National Forest to camp, is not considered to be a factor in the lodging numbers.

Some officials fear the Rainbow gathering may have a negative impact on tourism. Polumbus has heard of isolated incidents of "visitors who are concerned because of what they are seeing in the media" about the gathering, she said.

Business owners in North Routt County, particularly at Steamboat Lake and Hahn's Peak, fear the gathering could hurt business, Polumbus said.

The Chamber is encouraging people not to be afraid to travel north.

"The gathering is closer to Wyoming than any of our recreational areas," Polumbus said. "Yes, it's a lot of people, but we have a lot of space."

She does not think the gathering will have a negative impact on local tourism. "As long as people are communicating that we are open for business, I don't think we will have that much of a problem."

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