Rainbow Family digging Gifford-Pinchot site

Crew shovels snow in advance of annual counterculture event

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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Some 20,000 ambassadors from the global counterculture are making their way to Skookum Meadow, high in the Cascades east of Swift Reservoir, for their annual July Fourth celebration of nonviolence, peace and sustainability.

Organizers of the Rainbow Family of Living Light are working closely with Gifford Pinchot National Forest managers on traffic and environmental issues and holding community meetings to address local concerns. One such meeting was scheduled for Monday evening in Stevenson; a second is set for 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Yale School gym.

Since 1972, the Rainbow Family, a loosely affiliated group of individuals committed to principles of nonviolence and alternative lifestyles, has held its annual U.S. gathering on national forestland. The group had initially considered the Colville National Forest in northeastern Washington for this year’s meet-up, but reportedly shifted its sights to the southwest after learning that this year’s cool, wet spring promised a bumper crop of mosquitoes on the Colville.

Law enforcement officials are taking the gathering in stride.

Skamania County Undersheriff Dave Cox said the county is taking its lead from the Forest Service. “We’re in a support mode for them,” he said. “We’re basically doing the fire, EMS and peripheral law enforcement. “

Christy Covington, public affairs spokeswoman for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, said Forest Supervisor Janine Clayton met with members of the group in early June and later joined them on a field trip to the 40-acre Skookum Meadow site, a large wetland, part of which is still under deep snow at an elevation of 3,200 feet. An advance “seed crew” is at the site hand-shoveling snow this week, she said.

“They’ll be confined to the margins due to standing water,” said forest spokesman Ken Sandusky. “Most of them will be camping out in dispersed sites. They’ll be expected to abide by the same dispersed-campsite rules that any forest user would,” including a prohibition against camping within 150 feet of any water source, he said.

Members have submitted an application and an operating plan for the gathering, which is scheduled to run from July 1-7.

“The expectation is, they will have a permit,” though on principle, members won’t sign the permit as an organization, Covington said. “They call themselves a collection of individuals, so the approach is to have communication with them. Janine is really trying to establish a spirit of cooperation. It’s really important to remember that it’s their event and we’re trying to assist and help manage.”

Forest Service specialists are at the site flagging archeological sites and sensitive plants, which the campers are expected to avoid, Sandusky said. “So far, they have been leaving our resource flagging alone and staying back off those areas,” he said.

About 1,000 people and “upwards of 600 vehicles” already have arrived at the site, he said.

But the biggest issue right now is the heavy snowpack in the Cascades.

“Everywhere there’s some shade, there is a snowdrift,” Sandusky said. “Those folks are digging themselves in. There are nine-foot snowdrifts in places.”

The road to the meadow is gated, so those taking part in the celebration will have to hike in three miles, Sandusky said. “We’re not opening the gates for them. At no time will anyone other than administrative staff be able to gather at the recreation site” except by foot.

Advice to participants

On its website, the Rainbow Gathering advises those attending to “please be patient … try to hang out for a few more days, ’cause you might get there and not be able to park yet.”

“Come prepared for cold, wet weather,” the site advises. “You’re coming to the great Northwest and this summer there is still snow! Please make sure your vehicle is in good running condition and you give no reason to get messed with!”

A schedule posted on the Rainbow Gathering website notes highlights of the festival, but advises those attending to “remember the concept of Rainbow Time, and that any semi-scheduled event will start when it starts, and not necessarily by the clock.”

On July 3, there’ll be a Cyberspace Circle to “discuss cyberspace issues and how to use this resource in a Rainbow appropriate way.”

July 4 will feature a Circle of Peace beginning at sunrise and ending at about noon, after “a period of Ohming.”

The site lists a “Rainbow press crew,” which it describes as “a completely unofficial affiliation of volunteers who — like all the other volunteers who work to make the gathering happen — have not been authorized by anyone to speak for any Rainbow related entities or events.”

In the past, the Rainbow Gathering has bristled at what it calls the Forest Service “disinformation propaganda machine,” intended to “freak out the locals.” The site links to a number of stories praising the Rainbow Family for its cleanup efforts after past gatherings.

“From our understanding, they operate under the no-trace theory,” Covington said. “They leave a cleanup crew. That’s identified in their operating plan.”

Other members of the public using the forest will notice an increase in traffic after the gathering on the Fourth, Sandusky said.

“The real traffic impact will be on the fifth, sixth and seventh,” he said. “There will also be a lot of vehicles parked along roads, making already narrow roadways even more so.”