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Rainbow Family: They come with jalopies and leave with the wind

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From page A1 | May 10, 2013 |

A gathering of the Rainbow Family saw about 300 people camping in the Eldorado National Forest from April 25 to May 5.

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“The Rainbow Family has been described as a loose knit group of people from very diverse backgrounds. Many in the group, however, refer to themselves as hippies,” wrote  Frank Mosbacher of the U.S. Forest Service in a press release. “The purpose of their gathering was to discuss political and environmental issues, pray for world peace and celebrate life. The Rainbow Family describes itself as having no leaders and no organization.”

The USFS was initially unaware that the California Regional Gathering of the Rainbow Family had chosen Eldorado National Forest for their gathering. By April 26, however, it was obvious. More than 150 people, adults and children alike, were camping east of Grizzly Flat near Caldor. “It’s not uncommon for the Rainbow Family not to notify the Forest Service before their gathering starts,” Mosbacher wrote.

This was the first time the Rainbow Family used Eldorado National Forest. Since 1972, they have appeared in national forests unannounced for their gatherings.

“On Saturday, April 27, an operating plan for the gathering was signed by Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Kathy Hardy and affirmed by a council of Rainbow Family participants,” Mosbacher wrote. The plan was meant to protect the public and the national forest and its resources. A small Forest Service incident management team was sent to oversee the gathering, for both law enforcement and resource preservation purposes. They also oversaw public safety.

USFS specialists visited the gathering several times. They insured that the plan was still in effect and understood by the gathering. A 24-hour watch was kept by 24 USFS enforcement officers and special agents.

Mosbacher noted that the gathering attracts all types of people. “Some people hitchhiked to the event. Some drove vehicles that ran out of gas, broke down and were involved in accidents,” he wrote, including one where a vehicle rolled and had to be uprighted with the help of others near Grizzly Flat. “These gatherings also attract drug dealers and criminal activities such as drug possession and use,” Mosbacher noted.

Although a Website announcing the gathering and giving directions told the Family to “Leave the abuse behind: Alcohol abuse, drug abuse, self abuse, pet abuse, family abuse — all abuse is discouraged,” USFS enforcement officers made more than 2,200 contacts resulting in eight arrests over the course of the gathering. The arrests were on charges of “drug possession, driving under the influence, outstanding warrants, possession of a short barrel shotgun and interfering with police officers,” Mosbacher wrote. They also assisted with one medical emergency, where a victim had to be taken by helicopter to a hospital, and located two missing persons.

“We worked daily to keep the local residents and cooperating agencies as informed as possible without attracting more people to the gathering,” Hardy was quoted in the press release. “We had to come up to speed with a proper response in a very short time. Overall, I believe everyone involved in managing the incident did an excellent job.”

A review will take place soon to see what lessons the USFS learned from the gathering, Hardy said, so that the organization can learn from its experience.

The Rainbow Family Gathering was concluded on May 5, with a cleanup effort by the group finished on May 8.

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