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California locals fear worst ahead of large hippie gathering of Rainbow Family

By Ehren Wynder
Local officials fear the unauthorized Rainbow Family Gathering in Plumas National Forest could lead to another wildfire like the infamous Dixie Fire that tore through northern California in 2021. File Photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA-EFE
Local officials fear the unauthorized Rainbow Family Gathering in Plumas National Forest could lead to another wildfire like the infamous Dixie Fire that tore through northern California in 2021. File Photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA-EFE

June 21 (UPI) -- Local authorities in Northern California are buckling up for a rainbow invasion as thousands across the United States are expected to descend on Plumas National Forest next month.

The upcoming Rainbow Family Gathering is an annual festival in which thousands of hippie-minded people gather to celebrate peace, love and a connection to nature.

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But for Plumas County officials and tribal organizations, the unauthorized gathering has the potential to disrupt the local community and damage natural resources.

The U.S. Forest Service issued a statement warning of the upcoming festival, which usually peaks in the first week of July. Visitors reportedly already have appeared in the area.

The Forest Service said it expects this year's "incident" to draw as many as 10,000 people.

"An incident of this size can have significant impacts on traffic, communities, local resources, residents and visitors," the Forest Service said in a statement. "Local businesses can expect to see large numbers of Rainbow Family participants visiting stores and buying food and supplies along routes to the incident location. Forest and local roads in the vicinity may become congested during the incident and road closures and/or traffic detours may occur."

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The Rainbow Family Gathering has been held yearly at various public sites throughout the country. The first one took place at the Arapaho National Forest in Colorado in 1972.

Forest Service officials said gatherings of more than 75 people require a permit so local authorities can implement infrastructure such as public toilets to minimize the impact to federal land.

But the Rainbow Family, which prides itself as the "largest non-organization of non-members in the world" has no leaders tasked with administrative duties such as permit application, making federal compliance a non-starter.

"It's a challenge for us," said Forest Services spokesperson Hilary Markin. "The Rainbow Family, unfortunately, has consistently refused to comply with our permit process during these national gatherings."

Last year's gathering at the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire saw about 2,200 attendees. Markin said local authorities made six arrests, 116 violation notices and 270 written warnings related to drug and alcohol abuse, damage to natural resources and interfering with law enforcement.

The Plumas County Sheriff's Office in a statement warned attendees that officers will be present to enforce a "zero-tolerance" policy against any illegal or activities.

The sheriff's office said it is expecting the gathering to include individuals who engage in "public nudity, civil disobedience, drug and alcohol abuse and confrontations with locals."

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Lassen County Board Chair Aaron Albaugh said he expects a high risk of wildfires with so many open camp fires in one place.

"We just had the Dixie Fire," he said of the wildfire that tore through northern California in the summer of 2021.

Tribal representatives also are unhappy about their new neighbors who are pitching their tents on ancestral lands.

Robert Joseph, vice chairman of the Susanville Indian Rancheria, told the San Francisco Chronicle he fears what kind of state festival attendees will leave the land in once they pack up and leave.

"It's similar to Burning Man, but these guys here are just a little dirtier," he said. "They kind of leave a trail (of trash) when they come to these places."

Representatives of the Rainbow Family met with tribal leaders earlier this week to assuage their concerns, but Susanville Rancheria emergency services coordinator Scott Dixon said the tribes are not convinced.

"They said they're going to be light on the land, but we all know that with thousands of people, that's not going to be light," Dixon said. "They're going to leave a footprint, and it's going to take a while for the land to come back from that and be natural again."

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Joseph penned a letter on behalf of the Susanville Rancheria to members of the Rainbow Family asking them to hold the event elsewhere.

The group, however, said it's sticking to its plan.

"We believe in letting people express themselves as long as they're not harming their neighbors," Adam Buxbaum told the Los Angeles Times. "The Rainbow Gathering is the legacy of the original hippies."

Buxbaum who has been a regular of the festival since he was an infant, said the constant policing of the events has led to a drop in attendance over the years. He said he'll be surprised if this year sees the 10,000 attendees for which the Forest Service is prepared.

"A lot of people have quit coming to the gatherings permanently because they're tired of being searched and harassed every single year," he said.

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