CLARK, Colo. — The natural splendor of this remote spot in the Routt National Forest is what drew thousands of Rainbow Family members to camp here, but its beauty is deceptive, a forest service official said Saturday.
“It looks great, but it fools people,” said Kim Vogel, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman. “We’ve been in a drought long enough that our trees, live or dead, have a lot less moisture than they do normally.”
A beetle infestation has killed trees and made matters worse, she said, and officials are planning to tighten fire restrictions this week.
The high fire risk along with the fact that only one road leads in and out of the encampment were the main reasons the forest service denied the peace-loving counterculture group’s application for a permit to camp there legally.
Forest Service officials say up to 20,000 people could attend this year’s Rainbow Family gathering, which peaks July 4 with a prayer circle and parade.
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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, part of a national incident command team summoned to northern Colorado 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.
Since Monday, officers have swarmed the forest roads near the gathering 30 miles north of the Steamboat Springs resort area, ticketing hundreds of the more than 2,000 people in the woods.
On Friday, hundreds of hippies who received citations appeared in court in a makeshift federal courtroom set up in the woods here. 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.
Forestry officials declared Saturday they would “actively pursue” those who didn’t show.
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.
“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.”
On Thursday, a small fire broke out in the Rainbow Family’s camp site. The human-caused blaze torched a tree and not much else, officials said, adding that Rainbow Family members’ firefighting efforts failed. A U.S. Forest Service truck extinguished the fire.
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