Up to 20,000 expected for 'Rainbow Family' gathering in forest

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MY. TABOR >> A federal response team has come to Vermont to prepare for what is expected to be a gathering of 10,000 to 20,000 people in the next few weeks in the Green Mountain National Forest.

The Rainbow Family of Living Light, an informal organization whose only rule is one of "peaceful respect," is holding its annual gathering near Danby in the town of Mount Tabor, the U.S. Forest Service said Monday in a news release.

Visitors are expected to arrive over the next couple of weeks, with attendance peaking during the Fourth of July weekend, the forest service said.

The Rainbow Family has been holding this annual meeting, which it calls the Rainbow Gathering of the Tribes, since 1972 in a different national forest each year, according to the group's website.

This is the second time the gathering will be held in the Green Mountain National Forest. The first time was in 1991 near Texas Falls in Hancock, according to the Rainbow Family website.

Officials with the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest said they expect as many as 20,000 people. Mount Tabor's population was 255 in the 2010 census.

Mount Tabor

The gathering will be along Forest Road 10, according to the forest service, which warned that an event this size can have significant impacts on traffic and the surrounding communities. Local businesses can expect to see Rainbow Gathering participants buying food and supplies along routes to the gathering site, according to the news release.

Areas are expected to be very congested during that time.

The forest service said it has called in its national incident management team, which usually responds to events such as a wildfire or hurricane. But any incident that goes beyond what the local forestry service workers can handle on their own requires the team, said John Sinclair, Green Mountain National Forest supervisor.

He said that while the forestry service workers are coordinating with surrounding communities in preparation for the event, their primary focus is the impact on natural resources.

One particular concern is people burying human waste in the ground rather than using portable toilets, he said. Sinclair said he has warned them not to do this near water bodies. It is also bird nesting season, which he said increases his concerns.

The gathering must follow conditions and guidelines in a Forest Service operating plan, which Sinclair said is still being drafted. The plan will address public health and safety concerns, minimize impacts to natural resources, and outline post-event rehabilitation procedures, the news release said.

The 2014 gathering near Heber City, Utah, resulted in 87 people connected to the gathering being booked into the 88-bed Wasatch County jail, according to Jared Rigby, the Wasatch County sheriff's chief deputy. County officials issued a letter to their constituents warning them to lock their doors and not to wander into the campsite for "mere interest-sake."

"While many members of the Rainbow Family are upstanding citizens, a small segment of their population have reportedly caused significant and detrimental impacts on nearby communities," the Wasatch County officials said in the letter.

Karin Zirk, a Rainbow Family member from San Diego, California, said 2014 wasn't that bad compared with the gatherings between 2002 and 2008.

"Those, to me, were the worst years," Zirk said.

During the 2014 gathering, Zirk said, local people were supportive and enthusiastic and even came out to participate in the event. However, law enforcement was less tolerant, and the relationship between the U.S. Forest Service and the Rainbow Family was more contentious, she said.

The Rainbow Family doesn't have a spokesperson or leader, and there is no real decision-making body, which the U.S. Forest Service doesn't like, said Rainbow Family member Rob Savoye. Savoye, who is from Colorado, said he has been a member for 36 years and is the administrator of the Rainbow Family website.

"Most Rainbow are normal people," Savoye said. "We work jobs, raise families, pay taxes, just like everyone else."

Savoye said the U.S. Forest Service pushed "rumors and propaganda."

"For many decades they have harassed us, jailed us, and done everything they can to demonize us," he said.

"We just want to make the world a better place through our daily lives," Savoye added. "The gathering is how we recharge our batteries for the rest of the year."

Zirk called the relationship between the U.S. Forest Service and the Rainbow Family "a culture clash."

Zirk also said the U.S. Forest Service tends to write a lot of tickets for things that normally would be considered minor infractions. People attending the gathering might receive mandatory court appearance tickets for infractions such as broken tail lights or beads hanging from a rearview mirror, she said.

A spokesman for the Green Mountain National Forest said officials are "working diligently with members of the Rainbow Family, local businesses and other public officials to have a safe and uneventful gathering for all."

The main day of the event is July Fourth, when the camp is silent from dawn until noon as participants put their energy into manifesting world peace, Zirk said.

"There's a big difference between meditating with 15-20 people and meditating with 10,000 other people," she said. "It's really an amazing experience."

People start heading home July 5, Zirk said, though the event isn't really over until July 7.


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