ROUTT COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) – According to the U.S. Forest Service, about 1,000 people have already assembled in the remote area of the Routt National Forest selected to host the national Rainbow Family Gathering.
“Lucky us — I say that sarcastically — we drew the 50th anniversary event, and that leads us to believe that it’s likely going to be a little bit larger than previous years,” forest manager Russ Bacon said during a virtual meeting with the community Tuesday night.
The gathering is expected to draw 10,000 or more people who identify as members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light.
According to the USFS’s incident management team, the gathering is a loose-knit group of individuals “that like to live off the land, sometimes live off the grid. And so this gathering is the group’s annual get-together.”
The gathering, which happens the first week of July, changes locations each summer. The USFS shared photos Tuesday night of past gatherings, showing makeshift trench toilets, ovens made from boulders and mud and other infrastructure constructed by the group within the forest.
Rainbow Family headed to Adams Park in Colorado forest
This year, they have chosen a portion of the Routt National Forest called Adams Park. It is about 90 minutes north of Hayden.
“We’re deeply concerned about the potential impact that the gathering is likely to have,” Gaspar Perricone said.
Perricone is a board member of Keep Routt Wild, a community group dedicated to promoting practices that benefit conservation of the area for future generations.
“I think our public lands are something to be cherished, and with that comes a responsibility of making sure they are managed properly and doing what we can to preserve them,” he said.
According to Perricone, the planned gathering goes against what Keep Routt Wild stands for.
“We have requested that the U.S. Forest Service require that the Rainbow Family group receive a permit, both apply and receive a permit prior to convening, and if they choose not to do that, then our ask of the Forest Service would be that they use appropriate enforcement mechanisms to prohibit the event from occurring,” Perricone said.
Keep Routt Wild and other community members have expressed concerns about fire danger, sanitation, water rights, impacts to wildlife, trash and damage to vegetation.
“I wish I could say right here that this was a simple answer, that we could shut it down, but it just isn’t that easy,” Bacon said.
Rainbow Family Gathering is illegal
According to the USFS, the Rainbow Family Gathering is an unauthorized, unlawful event because special use permits are required for all groups of 75 or more people on Forest Service land.
“The Rainbow Family has refused to comply with permit requirements no matter how we come at the particular situation because they claim that they have no leaders and no organization,” Bacon said.
He said the USFS and law enforcement have issued citations in the past, but that attempts to discourage the group from gathering have rarely been successful.
“We really do have a mixed track record of court-related precedents when it comes to the balance of First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble to a whole bunch of other rules and regulations,” Bacon said.
Now, the USFS has an incident management team dedicated to the Rainbow Family Gathering to minimize its impact on the land and community.
“We are not endorsing it but we are managing it the best we can,” USFS law enforcement commander Ken Pearson said.
He has organized a law enforcement team of about 40 people who will monitor the gathering around the clock to ensure compliance with various safety issues, including parking and traffic.
Other forest officials are working on managing fire risks, the impacts to natural resources and restoring the area after the gathering is over.
“We recognize that there are going to be some significant impacts,” Bacon said.
However, he and other forest officials added that the Rainbow Family has “gotten better” in recent years about being good stewards of the land.