The Rainbow Family Gathering had upwards of 10,000 attendees at the peak of the unsanctioned annual event and federal officials say the large gathering in Routt National Forest has been dispersing since the Fourth of July.
This year’s event was expected to bring larger-than-normal crowds and had made law enforcement nervous for several months leading up to the July festival, which Vice described as a “weird version of burning man.”
Hilary Markin, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said attendance did appear above average, likely due to the observance of the 50th anniversary of the Rainbow Family’s first-ever gathering, which also was held in Colorado.
The gatherings have long generated controversy, not just for the presence of drugs and other crimes, but because they are unauthorized.
Rainbow Family has no one leader or person to speak on their collective behalf and therefore no one to sign the required permit that the U.S. Forest Service issues for large gatherings.
More so than residual trash, the bigger environmental issue according to Markin has been the degradation the area has suffered after hosting roughly 10,000 individuals, particularly regarding vegetation and land usage.
“Some rainbows stay on site after the gathering is over to work with our team to clean up,” Markin says. “In our experience, yes, many rainbows stay after to help us clean up, and we expect it to be no different this year.”
The Rainbow Family of Living Light is a counter-culture group known for holding large meetings on public lands, which they call a Rainbow Gathering, each year, usually between the 1st and 7th of July.
Generally, these gatherings feature large camps and communal kitchens where tea, coffee and food are served without the exchange of money.
According to Markin, attendance at the gathering crescendoed on July 4, then dropped to about 7,000 the following day. By Tuesday, an estimated 4,000 individuals remained. This trend, Markin says, was expected to continue through the week.
Others will continue to leave to “allow the land to heal.” Per Rainbow Family Gathering tradition, a small council of people will stay on-site to plan the following year’s event.
Others will also stay behind, usually about 100 or so, to help the forest service clean the area. In the past, Markin says that some Rainbows have stayed for weeks until the land has been restored and all trash cleaned up.
Nonetheless, Markin said 495 law enforcement actions had been recorded as attendance peaked. These “enforcement actions” consist of incident reports, written warnings, violation notices and arrests.
Incidents that have warranted law enforcement actions have ranged from inoperable vehicle equipment, damage to natural resources, narcotics possession and/or distribution, interference with federal officers, and assisting other cooperating law enforcement agencies, Markin says.
According to Markin, 2021’s gathering prompted concern about weapons that were being brought into the event. For 2022’s gathering, however, narcotics have been law enforcement’s primary concern.
Among marijuana, LSD, mushrooms, cocaine, heroin methamphetamine and others, Markin says that the presence of fentanyl has been the “most worrying” regarding drug usage at the 2022 Rainbow Family Gathering.
Criticism attributed to the Rainbow Family in the past has been potential adverse environmental impacts they may impose on the land.
Markin says that both the Forest Service and law enforcement tend to work together to minimize impact on the land.
“Law enforcement officers have maintained a presence throughout the gathering to protect the health and safety of individuals at the incident and in the surrounding community, to ensure sensitive resources are protected and to minimize any environmental damage,” Markin said.
She also said that Forest Service personnel and law enforcement officers will be working with the Rainbow Family to coordinate post-event cleanup and rehabilitation of the event site in the coming days and weeks.
Markin says that litter has been relatively under control, as attendees are required to pick up their garbage.