By Dan Colton
Around 40 residents gathered at the fire department Tuesday night to discuss the influx of visitors arriving at the Rainbow Gathering of Living Light, located nearby in Mount Tabor’s Green Mountain National Forest.
The discussion, hosted by the U.S. Forest Service, was wide ranging, spirited and included input from federal authorities, Rainbow Family representatives and local residents.
There was clear frustration over the speed limit on Forest Road 10, where the gathering takes place, and the Rainbow Family’s refusal to sign a permit.
The Rainbow Gathering, which started in 1972, is an annual event that travels between national forest across the United States, and draws visitors from every part of the nation for several weeks of camping and communal living.
The Forest Service requires groups of more than 75 people to sign permits, according to authorities, although the Rainbow Gathering, which has attracted 20,000 people during past events, said the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees their right to camp in national forests without federal permission.
One local man who spoke several times said, “My take on this meeting … is that (the Rainbow Gathering) is an illegal gathering.”
“We’ve been to court a dozen times over this and won,” said a Rainbow Gathering member, a man with a long gray beard and suspenders, after the meeting.
Federal authorities said the Rainbow Gathering is illegal, technically, but is too large to effectively shut down. Many residents seemed to acknowledge that fact and applauded the Forest Service multiple times.
Residents also applauded the Rainbow Family for an overall display of kindness, despite complaints from other locals who said harassment is common on Forest Road 10. Rainbow Family members said a small fraction of their community, who they said often congregate on the road, are spoiling public opinion.
Forest Road 10 has a speed limit of 50 mph, which concerns locals, Rainbow Family members and authorities. The gravel and dirt road is congested with hundreds of cars parked along one side, and conditions are expected to worsen as more people arrive.
Rainbow Family members at the meeting requested a speed limit of around 10 mph, but law enforcement said they can’t change the speed limit and advised drivers to slow down.
“You have to drive according to conditions,” said John Sinclair, resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service.
A Rainbow Family member, gray-bearded with a tie-dyed shirt, said a speeding local motorist struck a female Rainbow Family member last week, although William Mickle, incident commander for the U.S. Forest Service, said the claim wasn’t verifiable. Mickle said the woman was intoxicated at the time, and her allegations aren’t reliable.
Rainbow Family members allegedly took the woman to Rutland Regional Medical Center, and a Rainbow representative said reports of harassment will be met with increased self-policing measures to deter future incidents.
One local resident, wearing a baseball cap and T-shirt said, “This is their thing: (Rainbow Family members say) everyone is speeding no matter what, just so they can stop you.”
One woman leveled concerns at federal Forest Service agents, who conduct traffic stops on and near Forest Road 10.
“Lots of local people are complaining because they’re treated very badly by federal officers,” the woman said.
Last week, Herald reporters were pulled over and questioned by federal agents as they drove away from the campsite. Other traffic stops have produced scores of citations, the proceeds of which go to a federal victims’ advocate fund, Mickle said.
The Forest Service said up to 20,000 people are expected to attend the gathering, which ends after July 4. The Forest Service said Rainbow Family members will remain behind to assists in cleanup efforts.
Recent estimates by the Rainbow Family have downplayed the expected turnout to around 10,000. Crimes involving theft, assault and drug possession have been reported.
The annual event is estimated to cost the federal Forest Service $500,000 annually.