The Salt Lake Tribune, June 19, 2003
By Brent Israelsen, The Salt Lake Tribune
The Rainbow Family has settled on a location for its annual Fourth of July gathering to renew its commitment to peace, love, harmony and nature.
Hundreds of members of the 30-year-old, loosely organized clan of flower children, hippies and others of the countercultural persuasion already are assembling on approximately 4,000 acres of the north slope of the Uinta Mountains. Thousands more are expected to arrive in the next two weeks.
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The U.S. Forest Service this week approved a “noncommercial group special-use permit” for the gathering, which will occur by the Little West Fork of the Blacks Fork of the Bear River, near the Utah-Wyoming border and about 20 miles northeast of Mirror Lake.
That area can reasonably accommodate a crowd of about 20,000 people, says Kathy Jo Pollock, spokeswoman for the Wasatch- Cache National Forest.
Unlike most of the Rainbow Family’s previous gatherings over the past three decades, this one will be legitimate, at least in the eyes of the Forest Service, which has activated its “National Incident Management Team” to monitor the group’s reunion.
News of that legitimacy, however, comes as a disappointment to a train-hopping quartet of backpack-laden Rainbows making their way through Salt Lake City on Wednesday en route to the Uintas.
“How can we have a permit? We don’t have a leader,” says a 20-something woman from Austin, Texas, who calls herself “Ogre Beast.”
The Rainbow Family professes no organizational structure but fancies itself a spontaneous communion of humanity with a common goal of living in peace with each other and in harmony with nature.
Hear, hear, says Dick Carter, a veteran High Uintas preserva- tionist and an aging hippie himself.
While agreeing with the concept of the Rainbow Family, Carter is no fan of the group’s propensity to congregate in large numbers in America’s outback.
“I probably would be at a Rainbow Family gathering if it weren’t smack dab in the middle of a meadow that feeds the West Fork of the Blacks Fork.”
Carter says no group numbering in the thousands — be they snowmobilers, Boy Scouts, anglers or nature fanatics — should be allowed to come together in places still characterized by their wildness.
“Put them in a fairground or in a farm in upstate New York.”
Forest Service rules cannot block large gatherings on public land, says Pollock. The best the agency can do is try to regulate the groups to minimize impact and repair the damage.
Though the Rainbow Family generally has been known to clean up after itself, there is no guarantee it will, because no bond is required of “noncommercial” groups.
The cost of monitoring the Rainbow Family — likely to be in the tens of thousands of dollars — will come from Forest Service budgets facing continual cutbacks from Congress.
Such concerns, however, were far from the minds of the four Rainbows resting in a Mormon-owned park across from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters. Robyn Fender, a youth from Los Angeles, says even he finds many of the Rainbow Family values too hard to swallow.
“I just want to be in the mountains and smoke lots of pot.”