HEBER CITY — They gather — as many as 20,000 strong — in the name of “peace on Earth” and “harmony among all people,” but the arrival of the annual Rainbow Family Gathering of Tribes is resulting in warnings and concerns from local police and changes in plans for LDS Church activities in the area.
The gathering east of Heber City has also seen its first death — a 39-year-old woman from New Hampshire, Wasatch County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jared Rigby confirmed.
An autopsy was being performed, and the cause of death remained unknown, Rigby said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took precautionary measures Monday, including shepherding one Lindon stake girls’ camp away from its Aspen Lake campsite and moving another group from the Lake Creek Camp.
LDS Church congregations have been taking girls ages 12 to 18 to annual, weeklong Young Women camps since 1912. Also often called girls camp, the camps combine outdoor and spiritual activities.
Church officials decided Monday to move two Young Women camps as the Rainbow Family group moves through the area.
“As a precautionary measure, youth groups at Aspen Lake Camp and Lake Creek camp, both situated along Lake Creek Road, have been relocated to other facilities or sent home,” LDS Church spokesman Cody Craynor said in a statement. “Church representatives continue to closely monitor the situation and have put additional precautions in place at the Heber Valley Camp, which remains open.”
Parents of children in the Lindon-based girls group expressed disappointment but were accepting of the added precautions.
“It’s just not the environment we were hoping for the camp,” said Karen Smith, whose two daughters were planning to attend. “We are so sad because we had humanitarian projects planned. We had hikes planned.”
LDS Church leaders in Lindon said Monday night they had worked out some alternative plans that included some closer-to-home activities for their girls.
Meanwhile, Heber City police were visiting local businesses Monday to warn of the onslaught of new people to the area.
“When you get more people, it’s double the population, it makes a significant difference in our community,” officer Salvador Segura said.
The police department on its Facebook page said many of the Rainbow Family gathering’s attendees are law-abiding but acknowledged some are not and warned about the potential for public nudity, lewdness, shoplifting and aggressive panhandling.
“Hopefully they don’t get harassed by people loitering into their property,” Segura said.
The last time the group came to Utah in 2003, police arrested 18 people and issued hundreds of tickets and warnings.
Organizers of the Rainbow Family gathering invite all to their event “for the purpose of expressing our sincere desire that there shall be peace on Earth, harmony among all people” and “to hold open worship, prayer, chanting or whatever is the want or desire of the people,” according to a published invitation.
“People are always welcome to visit here,” Wasatch County manager Mike Davis said. “That’s always been our goal. But we certainly want the component that conforms to the laws.”
Contributing: Tad Walch