Forest Service Tangles With The Rainbow Family

Images courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

While many Americans get together this weekend to celebrate the red, white and blue, there is a loose conglomeration of thousands of people who converge for festivities of a different stripe.

Each year, the "Rainbow Gathering of Living Light" converges on federal land around the country in a kind of back-to-the-land environmental celebration. They've been doing it since the early 1970s, and this year, they're in Pinedale, Wyo.

While they espouse their love of nature, one thing the group doesn't love is a formal leadership structure, says John Twiss, director of law enforcement for the U.S. Forest Service. "They operate by consensus," he says, "but often there isn't consensus."

The Rainbow Family's own Web site puts it this way: "Some say we're the largest non-organization of non-members in the world. We have no leaders, and no organization."

Often, a result can be damage to the very lands that the Rainbow Family activists say they honor. For the past two years, the Forest Service has tried to work with the Rainbow Family to help to plan the gathering, but Twiss says the efforts yield mixed results. This year, he says, the group chose a location that the Forest Service didn't agree to.

Twiss says the Forest Services issues tickets and makes arrests, but it basically tries to contain the event.

"We kind of handle the perimeter and make sure they don't bulge out too much and stay in their circle," he says, speaking from Rock Springs, Wyo., about an hour away from the Rainbow site. When the Forest Service does go in, he says, it's to deal with specific problems, like trash or resource issues, or fights or individuals with outstanding warrants.

"I don't think we question their love of the land, which is very similar to ours," Twiss says. "I think what we question the most is the way they gather."

So far, this year's crowd has been fairly normal in size, Twiss says. Between 6,000 and 7,000 people are expected.

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