Forest Service prepares residents for the Rainbow Family’s upcoming event in New Hampshire


 Monitor staff

Published: 06-23-2023 6:31 PM

Federal officials are warning Granite Staters to be prepared for the upcoming gathering of the Rainbow Family in White Mountain National Forest — an event they are calling an “unauthorized group use incident.” 

The Rainbow Family is a loose-knit group of people who have large gatherings to pray for peace and practice rituals. Their biggest annual assembly happens the first week of July in a different National Forest each year— this year, in White Mountain National Forest.

“It’s sort of like a small city descending the middle of our woods,” said Gene Smithson, the leader of the National Rainbow Incident Management team, which is comprised of U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service employees. 

Right now, there are an estimated 300 to 500 people on site, but at its peak between July 1 through 7, about 5,000 visitors are expected. To put that in perspective, that’s about twice the size of the entire population of the town of Chichester.

Like a city, Smithson said, there are good and bad elements.

“Our law enforcement officers try to focus specifically on dealing with the bad elements,” he said, mostly referring to drug use, which makes up 80 percent of offenses.

National forest policy states that a gathering of 75 people or more requires a permit, which the incident team has requested from the Rainbow family numerous times. The Rainbows have consistently refused to comply with the permit process because they claim to have no leaders or representatives to sign for them. 

This raises the question: Why can Rainbows do this each year if it is technically illegal?

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During a virtual public meeting on Thursday night, public officials explained what they described as an “unfortunate truth,” that there are too many people to physically evict from the area. It is more realistic and productive to shift their focus toward gaining compliance and protecting resources. 

The Rainbow event will be located on the northern end of White Mountain National Forest, on the southern end of the Bog Dam loop. The site itself is about 300 acres. 

There is a closure order in place on Bog Dam Road to facilitate emergency vehicles getting in and out of the gathering. They have also reduced the speed limit on that road to 25 mph. 

Forest Services officials will attempt to keep traffic and parking under control. The virtual session showed photos of accomplishing this at past gatherings, including the one in northern Wisconsin in 2019. 

They also displayed photos of the Rainbows’ self-made “lovin’ ovens” and kitchens, as well as the latrine sites. Officials try to make sure that the latrines are properly constructed and a safe distance from water sources. 

The group is already establishing these latrines at their 2023 location in addition to compost pits, user-developed trails and makeshift kitchens.

Rainbows, as they call themselves, typically produce a map each year of their gathering, which includes labeled campsites and lakes. 

The Rainbow Family is also in charge of ensuring that all of the garbage produced is removed from the site. 

“In the past, Rainbows have stayed on site post-gathering for several weeks typically to rehabilitate the site,” said Hilary Markin, an officer for the National Rainbow Incident Management team.  

Markin narrated images of the site a few weeks after past events.

“You can hardly tell that they were there in that situation,” she said, though the state of the site post-incident is not always perfect.

Despite the Rainbows’ efforts, the Forest Service typically spends between $500,000 and $700,000 on rehabilitation after an event.  

Events usually have a “fambulance” on-site, a Rainbow-specific ambulance, as well as more conventional safety and protection resources. The incident team also posts permit applications, important warnings, and a declaration that this event is unauthorized at the trailhead.

The incident team has already collected water samples above, below and within the site of the incident to help them monitor the health and safety of the gathering. 

Officials on Thursday night reiterated that they look to maintain positive relationships with everyone — the Rainbows, local residents and the workforce— even though they do not condone the incident.

“Our primary focus is safety,” said Smithson. “Safety is going to be our number one.”