Their catchphrase is "Welcome home!" and the moment you drive past one or two people along the dirt road to Adam's Park north of Hayden, Colorado...you will have heard it a few times.
It's the 50th anniversary of the Rainbow Family Gathering a loosely organized group of like-minded people. While their webpage specifically says no one person speaks for the collective, it's posted "I think it's safe to say we're into intentional community building, non-violence, and alternative lifestyles. We also believe that Peace and Love are a great thing, and there isn't enough of that in this world."
That tracks with what CBS4 encountered Friday as more and more people drove up the dusty road towards national forest land.
"It's a bunch of hippies in the woods!" laughed Fort Collins resident Megan Wiec.
She said she's been coming for decades, including the last time the gathering was held in Colorado. As of last count Friday afternoon, the National Forest Service estimated 4,500 people had made the trip. They believe that number may swell to 10,000 by Monday, July 4.
Forest Service spokesperson Matt St. Pierre said working with the family comes with its own challenges, especially because what they are doing each year is technically illegal.
"The most appropriate thing would be for them to get a special use permit and for us to evaluate the location and evaluate the resource considerations to be at that place," St. Pierre said. "But because the Rainbow Gathering, the participants don't get a special-use permit... we work with them to try and evaluate the resources and design features for the lessening of the impacts that their activities have."
St. Pierre said that can range from soil compaction, trampling of vegetation, unauthorized cutting of trees, water quality issues, erosion, litter left behind...the list goes on. But he said in the past the family has done its part to clean up afterward, to some extent.
"We have seen evidence of that in the past and it is always somewhat unknown who will be left afterward to work with us but usually that is what happens. "
Greg Williamson said when he was working on a ranch and the family stayed on a part of it years ago, he saw the land return to its former state eventually. He's now a member of the family as well.
"I do know that yes there is a burden, but it could be a lot worse," Williamson said. "There could be black hills, black smoke pouring out of these hills because of all the brush. We're out here slimming some of this brush out."
There are large dumpsters for recycling and trash at one of the camps, and Williamson said while there are some bad actors as with any large group, the family is interested more in being good stewards of the land while they stay.
"We are here to be your friend; we are here to enjoy where you live at!" Williamson said gesturing. "Let us just... give us a little break, give us a little time, take a deep breath, it will pass," he joked.
There have been concerns about criminal behavior and how to regulate it so far from civilization. The U.S. Forest Service is on the hook for enforcement, and Forest Spokesperson Jennifer Maziasz said they are doing it all with 60 team members, many called in from other parts of the country. She said it's a unique challenge to take on.
"Our preparation, we can't really do that much because they don't actually select a site until maybe a couple of weeks beforehand," Maziasz said. "So we didn't know it was going to be in this location until June 14."
Maziasz said so far they've issued 200 citations which ranges from warnings to actual arrests. She said the majority of the interactions with family members tend to be educational, and that so far there have not been a ton of violations.
So as of now, in terms of how good of guests the Rainbow Family will be to our National Forest lands in Colorado, the verdict is still out, but with a positive outlook so far. Much like the positive outlook of many of the family members, like We-On-Earth, a spirited character who spoke with Mountain Newsroom Reporter Spencer Wilson about the word "We" and its meanings.
"We are gathering for peace; peace is "People Everywhere All Choosing Enlightenment" because our true purpose in life is to become enlightened," Mr. Earth said. "That's the purpose of Rainbow, everyone is rainbow, we are all fami-we."
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