Steamboat Springs, Colo. Thousands of campers flocking to a gathering of the Rainbow Family won't face eviction from a meadow north of town but could face fines and jail time after the U.S. Forest Service denied them a permit, officials said Friday.
The counterculture group originally didn't apply for the permit, required for any gathering of more than 74 people, even though the event is expected to draw 20,000 people. When some members did apply this week, officials denied it, citing fire danger, limited road access and other planned events nearby.
Rangers will warn campers as they arrive, give them a chance to leave and cite them if they don't, Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Ottaviano said. They could be fined up to $5,000 and sentenced to up a 6-month jail term.
Ottaviano said the Rainbow Family campers are putting themselves in potential danger because of high fire danger and poor access to the meadow in the Routt National Forest.
Much of the surrounding forest full of fire-prone trees killed by a beetle infestation, a drought has left vegetation dry, and only one road leads to the campsite, she said.
Campers have parked along the access road, slowing traffic and possibly making it difficult for emergency vehicles to get in, she said.
The gathering of the loosely-organized group is slated for July 1 through 7, but early arrivals have already set up camp and been cited.
Ottaviano said some of those cited did report as ordered to a federal magistrate, who set up court in a fire station near the site. She had no information on how the cases were being handled.
The Forest Service has asked for help from the Colorado State Patrol and the Routt County Sheriff's Department to monitor the gathering, but Ottaviano said they will not try to force anyone to leave or turn back.
"If we tried to go in there and remove 20,000 people, it would be violent," she said. "There's no way the very limited manpower we have could forcibly remove them ....Yes, they are going to come."
She said authorities will help the campers make sure kitchens and latrines are set up correctly to ensure public safety.
Ottaviano said the group did not give the Forest Service much notice of its plans, which would have given officials time to prepare or suggest alternative camping sites.
An unofficial Rainbow Family Web page, http://www.welcomehome.org, gives directions to the site, about 20 miles north of Steamboat Springs, and tells followers, "Ignore all rumors of cancellation."
The Rainbow Family describes itself on the Web site as an unorganized band of like-minded people seeking peace and harmony. The group's first national gathering was in 1972.
There is no charge to attend, although members pass "the Magic Hat" to collect money for food.