The U.S. Forest Service said late Thursday that it has denied the Rainbow Family a permit for its gathering early next month in the Routt National Forest north of Steamboat Springs.
Also, an unspecified number of Colorado State Patrol troopers, sheriff's deputies and municipal police officers from across the state will soon join a 42-member National Incident Management Team already at the Rainbow Family's intended gathering site about 35 miles north of the resort town. The request for more police came from Routt County Sheriff John Warner.
Kimberley Vogel, a spokeswoman for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, said she is "very concerned" about how the weeklong gathering, slated to begin officially July 1, will play out.
So far, those arriving early for the 35th annual Rainbow Gathering of the Tribes for World Peace & Healing have simply been issued citations -- carrying a penalty of up to six months in jail and/or $5,000 in fines.
The Rainbow Family has held a major summer gathering every year since 1972, and some 20,000 counterculture campers were anticipated by the scheduled start date this year.
When or if tougher enforcement -- such as eviction from the Forest Service land -- might begin, Vogel wouldn't say.
"We can only deal with as much as we can, with the resources that we have," Vogel said. "We're having to prioritize.
"At this point, we are treating them as individuals who are not abiding by the law, and they are getting citations. As other infractions occur, those will be treated as appropriate, whether it's by citation or arrest, or whatever the case might be."
The permit application, submitted Tuesday by an unnamed Rainbow member, failed on two counts, Vogel said.
The proposed event area is accessed by just one road, an estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of the landscape is dead or dying from the extensive beetle epidemic, and conditions are ripe for large fires.
Also, a Forest Service statement concerning the rejected permit said that the Rainbow Gathering conflicts with existing uses for businesses that have "priority permits" for activities planned in the area at the same time as the proposed Rainbow event.
The permit issue has been a contentious point in recent days.
Reached Thursday evening, Rainbow spokesman Henry the Fiddler said he hadn't heard that an application had been filed or that it had been rejected.
He also said that reports of a growing police presence also came as news to him. He said he had no other comment.
At least 218 citations for camping without the required permit have been issued so far to early-arriving Rainbow Family campers showing up at the Big Red Park area of the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District.
All gatherings of more than 74 people on Forest Service land require a free special-use permit, and permit holders must adhere to the conditions placed upon it.
That's not the free-spirited Rainbows' style.
On Tuesday, more than 200 Rainbow Family members had confronted a group of about 15 Forest Service law enforcement officers at a checkpoint, encircling them in a manner the officers found hostile. The officers, concerned for their own safety, drew their weapons -- but then retreated to their vehicles and left.
That checkpoint has not been staffed since the Tuesday incident. But on Thursday, a new checkpoint was established farther west of the gathering area.
While deliberately not organized, many Rainbow Family campers share a distaste for the constraints of mainstream society, and many of its members see the Forest Service's permit requirement as an unnecessary intrusion into a constitutionally protected affair.
Contact: brennanc@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-2742
June 24, 2006 - Denver Post (CO)
A Forest Of Fines
Preaching, Protest As Rainbow Family Answers To Charges
By Brandon Lowrey, Denver Post Staff Writer
Routt National Forest - Just beyond the edge of civilization, North Routt County Fire Station No. 2 served as an unlikely judicial outpost.
About a dozen federal officers and marshals stood between an austere chamber, where a U.S. magistrate sat, and the side of the road, where about 240 Rainbow Family members waited to stand trial.
"We love you," they shouted as U.S. Forest Service officers began reading names from a list of those cited for gathering on national forest without a permit on Friday -- the first day of court for the peace-preaching hippie group.
A long chain of quick arraignments followed, while a circus of preaching, protesting and revelry rumbled outside.
Forest Service officials expect up to 20,000 people could attend this year's Rainbow Family gathering, which peaks July 4 with a prayer circle and parade.
Since Monday, they have been ticketing those who have gathered in the woods about 20 miles north of Steamboat Springs.
After 34 years of dealing with the guerrilla gatherings, federal officials have it down to a science.
"Basically, our strategy is to work with them in advance," said Denise Ottaviano, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.
So far, that strategy has never worked.
"They have refused to get a permit in the past," said Ottaviano, A hippie named "Happy" passes time outside the North Routt County Fire Station No. 2 near Steamboat Springs on Friday, awaiting a court appearance. About 240 Rainbow Family members had to stand trial. (Post / Karl Gehring) part of a national incident command team summoned here to handle the latest family reunion. "Every year, we are forced to cite them for that."
But in each of the past three years, a member has stepped forward and signed a permit application, which Ottaviano considers progress.
The agency on Thursday denied the group's belated permit request because of a high fire threat and the fact that it conflicted with pre-existing permits.
Uniformed forest officials in sport utility vehicles and on horseback choked Forest Road 500 -- the only road in and out of the gathering site -- with an information checkpoint Friday. As cars came in, the officials handed out fliers advising arriving family members that they risked getting a ticket for gathering without a permit if they kept going.
And that ticket could mean up to a $5,000 fine, though most received fines of $125 to $135 and a warning to leave within 24 hours. The government waived the additional possibility of six months of jail time, said Magistrate Judge David West. Through 7:30 p.m. Friday, just 60 percent of those ticketed had been through their hearing.
Aside from the permit problems, the group tends to stay out of trouble. Every year, a few members are netted for drug violations and other, more minor charges. But the number remains insignificant compared with the thousands in attendance.
The rub: Groups larger than 75 must obtain a free permit, which is granted on conditions designed to protect the wilderness and people in the area -- and requires applicants to work closely with federal officials.
The Rainbow Family doesn't care much for dealing with a government that it has distrusted since its founding in the social upheavals of 1972. That feeling lingered outside the makeshift courthouse on County Road 129.
"I'm starting to fear my government more and more," said John Judson, a 54-year-old from Rochester, N.Y., who wore a scruffy gray beard. "They should be used to us by now."
Staff Writer Brandon Lowrey can be reached at 303-820-1201 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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