SALEM, Ore. (AP) – Concern is growing in a conservative, remote corner of Oregon as people start arriving in a national forest for a Rainbow Family of Living Light annual gathering, a counter-culture get-together expected to draw thousands.
Officials with the Malheur National Forest said this week that around 600 Rainbow Family members are already camped at a gathering site near Flagtail Meadow and that between 10,000 and 30,000 are likely arriving by July 4, when the multi-day event peaks with a prayer for world peace.
People with small children, those with disabilities and senior citizens were among those who wrote to the event’s Facebook page, discussing the site near the town of John Day in eastern Oregon, accessibility and bus routes.
Some commentators expressed concern about keeping the place hygienic.
“Bury your s–t, bury your dog’s s–t, bury your baby’s s–t,” one person wrote.
Another asked what the “pants policy” is, and got dozens of responses, including that they’re optional.
The U.S. Forest Service said that as of Tuesday, it had made two arrests, and handed out 31 warnings and three violation notices.
The Forest Service said its resource specialists are making sure that kitchens, peace circles, and latrines are located appropriately.
Ahead of last year’s event in Vermont in the Green Mountain National Forest, there was a lot of concern about whether the Rainbows would pick up after themselves once the gathering was over. They carved campsites out of the wilderness, but once the bulk of the Rainbows left, a number stay behind, in some cases for weeks, to clean up.
An Indian tribe, the Burns Paiute, said the Oregon site is within its ancestral territory, and asked for attendees to be respectful.
“This land is sacred to us, and we hope they respect it,” Burns Paiute Tribal Chairman Joe DeLaRosa said in a statement Thursday.
In a welcoming note to attendees, the tribe noted that the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in the winter of 2016 by those trying to put federal lands into the hands of locals, had occurred on land sacred to the tribe.
“We are still recovering from last year’s desecration,” the tribe said.
The Forest Service said the group refused to sign a special use permit, required for groups of more than 75. The group has noted that it claims no leader, and consequently there is no one to sign such permits. The Forest Service said it will require operating conditions that users must abide by.
Rancher Loren Stout, who has a federal grazing permit on land adjacent to the event site, was upset, saying the Forest Service would punish ranchers if they ignored permit requirements and tapped a spring for drinking water like the Rainbow Family has done.
“People are furious over this,” Stout told the Blue Mountain Eagle, a weekly newspaper in John Day. “Not because it’s a friggin’ bunch of hippies. It’s the different standards.”
The first national Rainbow gathering was held in 1972, partly an outgrowth of community many young people felt at the 1969 Woodstock music festival. The get-together is held each year on national forestland.
AP reporter Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont contributed to this report.
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