Rainbow Family picks Lowman for summer gathering

Forest Service braces for up to 20,000 people

Idaho Statesman/June 15, 2001

Lowman -- The Rainbow Family plans to descend on the Lowman area this summer, but the U.S. Forest Service would be more likely to tune in to the groove if the group would apply for an event permit and pack along some portable toilets.

The unorganized organization plans to camp out in a meadow near the Lowman Ranger Station June 28-July 7, member Garrick Beck of Santa Fe, N.M., said Wednesday. As many as 20,000 Rainbows could show up.

"The bell curve usually peaks over the July 4 weekend, when the meditation for peace takes place," said Beck, who has attended gatherings for more than 30 years. An advance party of about 200 was set up Wednesday, said Sharon Sweeney of the Forest Service's National Incident Management Team.

The seven-member team spends nearly all its time chasing Rainbows, she said. During the gatherings, the team works with law enforcement, media and communities near the gathering spot, letting them know what to expect, Sweeney said.

"It's an illegal event, from our perspective," she said, because the Rainbows have yet to get an event permit. "The Rainbows see it as a First Amendment rights issue, to be able to gather on public land."

In the past, they have hurt the habitat of some endangered species, she said. And they tend to use open-air trenches for human waste, rather than portable toilets.

More than 20,000 showed up in Montana's Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest last summer. Authorities said the group left behind problems ranging from a buildup of human waste to unpaid medical bills.

Beck said the group has a good record of cleaning up after the gatherings. The gatherings have a hippie-like vibe, but the family includes people from all walks of life, he said.

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