Eco-group Earth First! sets rendezvous for Uintas over July 4 holiday
Campers looking for a Fourth of July getaway might have some interesting neighbors in the Uintas.
Earth First!, an ecological direct-action movement, is holding its 2019 rendezvous near the Soapstone Basin in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, about 20 miles from Kamas.
The collective filed for a permit with the U.S. Forest Service for about 150 people, Heber-Kamas District Ranger Dan Jauregui said in an interview. Earth First! has advertised the event on its website as lasting from July 3- 10. The group did not respond to an email or voicemail seeking comment.
They will be “dispersed camping,” Jauregui said, meaning they won’t be using reserved campsites. Many of the campsites at higher elevations are still closed because of snow, and July 4 is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year in the forest.
Mirror Lake Highway was only opened on Monday, and photos on the Utah Department of Transportation’s Facebook page show feet of snow lining the roadway. About 20 of the 30 campsites in the forest are open and available, Jauregui said, and many have already been reserved.
“It’s going to be a busy area already,” he said. “I don’t see these guys taking up any more space.”
The visit from Earth First! brings to mind two Rainbow Gatherings that have happened in the area in the last 20 or so years. The most recent one, in 2014, saw thousands descend on the national forest, orders of magnitude larger than the gathering planned for next week.
That event saw two fatalities, though no foul play was suspected, and one stabbing, for which a woman was arrested, according to news reports at the time.
The Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office, the agency tasked with responding to calls in the Soapstone Basin, did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Jauregui said he’s been researching Earth Front! and has found no issues so far, and said the group has been good to work with.
“These groups, they’re very environmentally conscious,” he said. “We welcome everybody. It’s the public’s land, it’s everybody’s forest.”
He said there would be more staff on hand to handle crowds, but that’s the normal procedure for popular times and is not due to the arrival of Earth First!
Jauregui stressed the importance of communication to set expectations, and said the group has been receptive. They’ve discussed setting up camps away from streams to avoid compressing the nearby soil, plans for the cooking station, trash and the latrines, and goals for rehabilitating the area afterward.
He pointed out the group will be holding environmental seminars, and said “they’re not here to come out and cause issues with natural resources.”
“It’s no different than someone who’s having a family reunion on the forest,” he said. “A lot comes down to communication and building working relationships.”
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Utah’s legislative general session is set to end on Friday, and if history is any indicator, there will be a flurry of floor amendments and last-minute changes for county officials to monitor.