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For the week of June 20 - June 26, 2001

  News

Thousands gather in forest near Stanley

Annual Rainbow Gathering spurs enforcement concerns


"It has its problems. Iím not going to tell you this is an assembly of the angels." 

Garrick Beck, Santa Fe businessman and unofficial Rainbow Family spokesman


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

The Boise National Forest is bracing for an unanticipated influx of between 20,000 and 30,000 counter-cultural nature lovers next weekend.

The Rainbow Family of Living Lightóa counterculture group that "has no affiliations other than belly buttons"óhas selected a camping area near Banner Summit, northwest of Stanley, as the location for the groupís annual gathering. The gatherings are held each year on the Fourth of July in different regions of the country. They are always on U.S. Forest Service land, but the group never applies for permits.

"Despite peopleís concerns about penniless hippies and panhandlers, the fact of the matter is, area businesses make a lot of money," said Garrick Beck, unofficial Rainbow spokesman for this yearís event.

But the number of people anticipated, the "penniless hippies" stereotype, annually increasing arrest records, and potential resource damages have Forest Service managers and local residents worried.

"Because Stanley is a small town, and people donít lock their doors, weíre telling them to take the stuff they would normally leave out, tools and such, and lock it up," Stanley Mayor Hilda Floyd said.

An apparent scouting party of a few hundred Rainbows was camped out last week in the Bruce Meadows area of Bear Canyon, about 28 miles west of Stanley, on the Lowman Ranger District of the Boise National Forest.

Whether Bruce Meadows will be the actual site of the gathering, set for June 28 to July 7, was not clear last week, said Sharon Sweeney of the U.S. Forest Serviceís National Incident Management Team.

The seven-member team spends much of its time monitoring Rainbow gatherings. It also helps towns near meeting sites cope with logistical problems.

Sweeney said the Forest Service considers the gatherings illegal because participants never apply for permits before staging them.

The permit requirement, say the Rainbows, violates the groupís Constitutional right to assemble. The permit regulation, however, has been upheld in U.S. District Court in North Carolina as not impeding First Amendment rights.

Ron Julian, Boise National Forest deputy forest supervisor, said kicking 20,000 people out of the forest probably will not be an option.

"Thatís been tried in other locations in the past, and itís not been successful," he said. "The best we can do is work with them. We try to make sure that all the other entities that are going to be impacted by this are aware that the Rainbows are coming."

More than 20,000 Rainbows showed up at last summerís gathering in Montana. Authorities said the group left behind problems ranging from human waste to unpaid medical bills, though Forest Service records from previous events show that sites are generally meticulously cleaned by event participants, and recover well.

Beyond resource damages, past events have come with their fair share of legal and logistical problems.

During the 1998 gathering on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona, according to records kept by the National Incident Management Team, several wildfires were suppressed, 132 arrests were made, 226 drug "incidents" were recorded, 62 medical emergencies occurred and one Rainbow member died due to an alcohol-related incident.

"A significant amount of controlled substance use continues to occur at the Rainbow Family gatherings on National Forest system lands," states the Management Team account. "Reports continue to surface regarding weapons and people willing to use them, particularly against law enforcement officers."

But difficulties, said Beck, will always be inherent when so many people gather for a celebration.

"It has its problems," he acknowledged. "Iím not going to tell you this is an assembly of the angels, but often times, the good solid American nest, people in rural America, get knocked clean over both by genuine concerns and unwanted rumors. Iíd like to do what I can to alleviate some of their concerns."

Beck said the gathering is generally peaceful and stresses cooperation and community living.

"Thatís one of the fun things, to show that a human community can exist without those typical societal structures.

"As Iíve grown through this in 30 years, Iíve come to value the gatherings as an educational experience: people learning tolerance, people learning to work together."

On the neighboring Sawtooth National Recreation Area, impacts from the event are not anticipated outside of an increase in campers from usual Fourth of July numbers as Rainbow participants travel to and from the gathering.

"Weíre certainly monitoring the situation and in touch with the local community and the Incident Command Team," said Ed Cannady, SNRA public information officer. "Frankly, if they come and camp and obey the rules, we will be happy."

 


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.