Rainbow Family crowd reaches 4,000

U.S. Forest Service officials say door for permit 'may have closed'

The Rainbow Family of Living Light may no longer be able to get a special-use permit for its gathering on Routt National Forest land in North Routt County.

"At this point, I don't know what could be done to have a permit issued," U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Ritschard said Monday. "I don't know if we're even considering that. That door may have closed."

Ritschard said Tim Lynn, National Incident Management Team commander, now estimates that 4,000 people are camping at the communal gathering, held on several miles of land near Big Red Park, 35 miles north of Steamboat Springs. The nature-celebrating, alternative-lifestyle crowd is expected to at least triple in size this week, as Rainbow participants from across the country arrive for the event's beginning Saturday.

Disputes with Forest Service officials began nearly two weeks ago, as people began to arrive for the gathering, a weeklong, annual event held in a different national forest each July. Although any gathering of more than 74 people on national forest land requires a free, special-use permit from the Forest Service, Rainbow Family members argued that requiring a permit violates the constitutional freedom of assembly, and the group did not apply for a permit until last week. An initial permit application contained profanity. The Forest Service denied a second application Thursday, for reasons including fire safety concerns.

"It continues to be an illegal gathering, because there is no special-use permit," Ritschard said. The possibility of moving the gathering to another location is also rapidly decreasing, she said.

"Other locations have been considered, but I don't know that we're going to issue a permit for another location," Ritschard said. "To try to move all those people ... that probably wouldn't be successful."

Forest Service officers issued 224 "violation notices" to Rainbow participants from June 12 to Thursday, Ritschard said, and they likely have issued about 75 more since then.

The notices stipulate mandatory court appearances for petty offenses, which Ritschard said are mostly for "illegal occupancy and use of the national forest," along with a few notices for alcohol, drug and unleashed dog violations.

Riley Polumbus, spokeswoman for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said lodging barometers for the upcoming holiday weekend look good, and tourism in Steamboat should not be adversely affected by the Rainbow event, likely because of its remote location.

"In town, I think people are doing a good job recognizing that this isn't going to affect them very much," Polumbus said.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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