Not Hell Fest after all


After getting an earful from some liberal Longmont environmentalists last spring about the horror story that would unfold with the recent Heaven Fest event, it was with some trepidation that I headed over to Union Reservoir on Aug. 1, The Day After.

After all, my Feb. 11 story about the Christian music festival, which was held July 31 south of the reservoir, had outlined a variety of concerns about the event, ranging from traffic congestion to environmental impacts on plants and wildlife around the reservoir.

“They will have to put everything back to the condition they found it,” Longmont City Clerk Valeria Skitt had assured me at the time.

Naturally, I was skeptical. It’s my job.

I drove out there the next day to catalogue the destruction, to provide an inside peek at the decimation done by the Lord’s work.

Sure enough, I was stopped at one entrance by a volunteer security guard who directed me to a different entrance. Typical, I thought. They are trying to hide the evidence from the press.

If there’s one thing that sharpens the resolve of a journalist, it’s being denied information, or turned away at the door. I vowed to redouble my efforts to infiltrate the property.

After making my way undetected through another entrance, I parked and hoofed it across a vast field to where crews were breaking down tents and hauling off supplies.

I acted nonchalant, as if I belonged there, and made a beeline to the reservoir, the delicate ecosystem that had surely been trampled and trashed by an unruly crowd of more than 30,000 bible-beaters.

I walked over the ridge, half-expecting to see dead waterfowl floating in the lake and beaches covered in garbage.

But it was spotless. I returned to the fields and noticed for the first time that there were dozens of adults and children spread across the meadows, armed with trash bags, carefully picking up every last piece of litter.

Sure, the vegetation on the fields was a bit trampled. And there were at least two rows of porta-potties set up right on the shoreline, their fumes and errant toilet paper a bit too close to the reservoir for my liking.

But overall, it looked like the organizers were doing a damn fine job of cleaning up after themselves.

So much for my juicy story. I spoke with one of the organizers, Dave Powers, president of the Worship and the Word Movement.

He said that cleaning up around Union Reservoir had been their first priority that day, and that volunteers would probably be at the site for a week, fixing their mess. Some had stayed up all night, picking up the pieces.

“We’re just on this property until everything is perfect,” he said. “We’re meticulous.”

to Powers, about 1,900 volunteers signed on to help with the event.
Only two of the organizers are paid employees, he said. The group has an
1,100-page manual detailing every step of staging, “down to the number
of pens on each table,” Powers told me.

event was alcohol-free, which further changed my preconceived image of
an unruly crowd filled to the gills with wine and bread.

described some of the charities that will benefit from a portion of the
event’s proceeds. One is called Love 146, an organization that battles
human trafficking and child exploitation. While tagging along on an
undercover sting operation in southeast Asia, he said, the group’s
founders witnessed the brutality of the child sex trade firsthand: Young
girls, aged 9 or 10, clothed in red dresses in a room, staring at
children’s cartoons on televisions, a dazed look in their glassy eyes,
waiting for the next rape of the dozens they endured every day. On the
other side of glass windows, men would peruse the menu, a menu
consisting not of names, not of humans, but of numbers assigned to each

But one girl
was unlike the others, Powers said. One gazed not at a television, but
defiantly out the glass at her captors. She was probably new, she still
had some fight in her, she hadn’t been broken yet. Her number was 146,
hence the name of the organization.

the jury is still out on whether Heaven Fest really brought in the
$700,000 in lodging and dining revenue that Longmont city officials had
predicted. (A couple of thousand attendees camped on site, according to
Powers.) And there could well be significant environmental impacts that I
didn’t detect.

overall, in a world in which we tend to stereotype and label the
“other,” whether it’s putting “right-wing conservative Christians” or
“left-wing environmental socialists” into neat little boxes, this was a
reminder that there are many shades of gray.

And sometimes, gray is good. Respond:

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