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Online Speculation Abounds That Unsanctioned Rainbow Family Gathering Meeting Will Take Place In Colorado

(CBS4) - Rumors are circulating online that an annual, unsanctioned gathering of thousands of people will make its way back to Colorado this year.

The Rainbow Family Gathering marks its 50th year this summer. The loose-knit group of world-peace seeking people meet on national forest land for days or even weeks at a time, and after a number of destructive wildfires, some Coloradans are concerned a gathering of that magnitude is too big of a risk.

"We're working with the community, engaging with them just to plan for this potential event or incident to take place," said Hilary Markin with the U.S. Forest Service's National Rainbow Incident Management Team.

The Rainbow Family of Living Light is made up of thousands of people from all across the country. The loosely organized group has no leaders or organization structure, and while the family means different things to different people, most members have a common goal to gather in the name of love and world peace.

Rainbow Family gathering
Members of the "Rainbow Family" meet for their annual summer gathering in July of 1997 in the Ochoco National Forest in Oregon. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

"It's an idea of cooperation, it's an idea of building community, it's an idea of caring about the wellbeing of one another," said Gary Stubbs. "We treat each other as if we're family. If you show up, we call you rainbow family."

This year will be Stubbs' 39th Rainbow Gathering. It also marks the 50th year since the first ever meet up in Grand County.

"Some people are expecting as few as 10,000, others of us are thinking we might get as many as 30,000," Stubbs said.

The Rainbow Family Of Living Light
The culmination of the yearly Rainbow Family gathering takes place at noon on the Fourth of July as thousands gather to break their silent meditation, raising their hands to let out a collective Om and sending up a prayer for peace, in Mt. Tabor, Vt., July 4, 2016. Each year, for a few weeks in summer, a loose confederation of like-minded souls called the Rainbow Family of Living Light quietly converts a site in a public forest somewhere in the United States into a communal living space for thousands. Campsites are established, latrines are dug, and an elaborate water filtration system is erected to bring water from nearby streams. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

In 2019, the gathering took place in Wisconsin, and in 2021 it was held in New Mexico. While this year's location won't be decided until June, online speculation that it will return to Colorado has begun.

"What we've heard is rumors that they'd like to return to where it was back at the 50th anniversary, at least in the general vicinity in Colorado," Markin said. "We're anticipating that they may go back to that location, but it's just really in the planning and initial planning stages right now."

Markin works with the Forest Service's team dedicated to the Rainbow Gathering. She said planning for the event is often a challenge because the group doesn't apply for permits, since it has no leader or governing body. Typically, special use permits are required by the Forest Service for groups larger than 75 people.

"They pride themselves sometimes in changing locations and surprising us," Markin said.

The last gathering in Colorado was in Routt County in 2006, where rangers issued hundreds of tickets for drug violations and illegal camping. This year, impacts to the land, and fire danger are among their top concerns.

"The area has been hit hard by wildfires in the past years, and that's a big concern for us," Markin said. "Down in New Mexico in 2021, we were within stage one fire restrictions for part of the gathering and enforced those very strongly, and we will be doing the same if we happen to be in those same circumstances."
Stubbs said the Rainbow family enforces its own restrictions and has a fire watch group that inspects all kitchens and campfires. Shovels and buckets of water are also required anywhere where fire may be.

"We're pretty liberal about a lot of stuff, but we are dead serious about fire precautions," said Stubbs.

(credit: CBS)

In 2006, Forest Service officials said it would take up to three years to revegetate the area of the forest where the group gathered. Following the event, more than 200 people stayed behind to clean up trash and debris, a practice Stubbs said happens every year.

"The idea of cleaning up after ourselves is kind of part of the cultural DNA of the Rainbow Family," he said. "We couldn't imagine going someplace and not cleaning up after ourselves."
While he's doubtful, the gathering will be in Grand County, officials are still preparing.

"We want to be there to help the community, to help support the area, and also work for the safety and health and protect the resources," Markin said.
On Sunday, the Grand County Sheriff confirmed his office was engaged in discussions with the Forest Service about minimizing the local impacts, should the event be held nearby.

"We are aware of the likelihood of the 2022 world rainbow family gathering happening in Colorado, and the possibility it could take place in Grand County," said Sheriff Brett Schroetlin.

"While it is too early to know with any certainty; it is our understanding that historically the location of the gathering is not determined until after their Spring Council in June."

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