1991 Vermont Gathering Report
NATIONAL RAINBOW FAMILY GATHERING 1991
GREEN MOUNTAIN NATIONAL FOREST
ROCHESTER RANGER DISTRICT
SUSAN P. DENONCOUR
Public Affairs Officer
Green Mountain & Finger Lakes National Forests
Reviewed and Approved By:
TERRY W. HOFFMAN
Green Mountain & Finger Lakes National Forests
A . ROBERT IWAMOTO
Rochester Ranger District
WARREN J. DUBOIS
Mark Twain National Forest
Deputy Incident Commander
Green Mountain Nat'l. Forest
1991 Rainbow Report
Each year the Rainbow Family of Living Light congregates on a national forest
of its choosing to celebrate their bond with the Earth and to pray for world
peace and healing. They have met in a different national forest in a
different state for the past 19 years. Attendance ranges from 5,000 to
35,000. In 1991 the Rainbow Family gathered in the Green Mountain National
Forest for its 20th annual gathering. This was the first national gathering
held in Vermont and the northeastern United States.
The Rainbow Family is a self-described tribe of ex-hippies and other more
recent followers who are seeking a meaningful alternative to the mainstream
American lifestyle. They claim to be a self-sufficient and self-reliant
society. although this claim is rarely realized. There is no apparent leader
or formal leadership structure. They believe in human equality and all
members have an equal say in decision-making and an equal share of power.
They govern themselves by consensus. They advocate tolerance and acceptance
of all beings and beliefs which results in a group with diverse, and often
As American citizens, Rainbow Family members defend their first amendment
rights to free speech and peaceful assembly on public land. They
traditionally choose National Forest System land for their gatherings because
of the natural and isolated setting. They also prefer the low key approach
with which the Forest Service manages these lands as compared to the more
highly regulated national parks. in 1988, the Rainbow Family's constitutional
right to gather on public land was upheld by a federal district court in
FOREST SERVICE ADMINISTRATION OF THE GATHERING
The Green Mountain National Forest was the lead agency administering the 1991
gathering. Other cooperating agencies included the Addison, Caledonia,
Orange, Rutland, Washington, Windham and Windsor County Sheriff's
departments; the Vermont State Police and departments of Fish and Wildlife,
Health, Human Services and Social Services; the US Border Patrol and the US
Marshall Services. The event was managed as a large social gathering. The
primary management objectives were to provide for the health and safety of
all and to minimize any negative environmental and social impacts.
THE 1991 RAINBOW GATHERING - A BRIEF CHRONOLOGY
During the 1990 Rainbow Gathering, the Rainbow Family "visioned" the New
England biosphere for their 1991 gathering. Family members scouted the
Allegheny, Finger Lakes, Green Mountain and White Mountain national forests
throughout the winter and spring of 1990-91 in search of an appropriate site.
On May 30, 1991, in last minute Rainbow style, the Family announced its
selection of the Rob Ford Meadows within the Green Mountain National Forest.
A seed camp of 200-300 Family members arrived to prepare the site for the
event. They developed water sources; built latrines, kitchen and camp sites;
and cleared brush for parking areas. Much of the work was slow, but they were
basically ready when the masses arrived at the end of June.
The official gathering took place between June 29 and July 7. The gathering
resembled a very large family reunion. People met and greeted one another,
exclamations of "welcome home heard continually. Most activity was
spontaneous. July 4TH was the culmination of the gathering, with traditional
rituals observed. Thousands of Family members met at main meadow for the
silent peace vigil from sun-up until noon with boisterous celebrations
following. After the July 4th event people gradually left the gathering.
Following the gathering, Family members began cleaning up the trash and
garbage left behind and rehabilitating forest resources that were impacted by
the masses. The clean-up crew, varying in size from 200 to 1,000 people,
worked diligently for four weeks. On August 5, Forest Service officials
conducted a final inspection of the area and declared the clean-up and
rehabilitation work complete and acceptable. The 1991 National Rainbow
Gathering was over.
Beginning June 29, Rainbow gatherers steadily entered the Rob Ford site at a
rate of 2000-3000 per day. Attendance peaked on July 4 with an estimated
16,000 people on site. Participants left the gathering at a slightly faster
rate than they arrived, with as many as 5.000 exiting on July 7. By July 10.
only 1000 Rainbows remained. Despite the masses of people, the event
concluded with relatively few serious reportable incidents.
The most significant event of the gathering was the death of an 11-week old
infant on June 29; apparent cause of death Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
There was one birth reported. There was one assault arrest and numerous
traffic citations and warnings issued. Law enforcement officials made several
drug arrests. Two men were charged with possessing and selling substantial
amounts of LSD. There was one unreported and unsubstantiated rape. In
addition to the infant death, the local emergency squad assisted in one back
injury and 5 drug overdoses. There were no water-borne. food-borne or
infectious disease problems at the event.
KEY MANAGEMENT CONCERNS
From the start three issues concerned the Rainbow Family and Forest Service
officials alike: water, parking and "A" Camp. These same issues plague the
Family year after year. In addition, Forest Service officials were concerned
about their ability to administer a gathering of 16,000 people without any
formal agreements or commitments from the Rainbow Family.
WATER - The Rainbow Family was determined to provide adequate water from natural sources rather than truck in bulk water as they did in 1990 They
eventually tied into two surface water brooks and piped water into the site
on June 30. Despite abnormally dry weather. the system surprisingly kept up
with demand during the entire gathering.
PARKING - Parking for an estimated 3000 to 4000 vehicles was needed. Two available meadows on NFS land provided parking for 1400 vehicles. The Rainbow
Family ignored Forest Service advise to arrange fee parking on nearby private
land. When the meadows filled up parking overflowed onto forest roads where
one-side-only parking was permitted. This required the Family to shuttle
thousands of people from parking areas to gathering access points.
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