Hippies Gather in forest

Members seek love and peace

By Steve Costello

Granville - Nestled in a valley surrounded by the Green Mountains along Route 100, Granville includes some of the most picturesque vistas in New England, but the town will also soon include thousands - somewhere between 10,000 and 35,000 members - of the National Rainbow Family - a loosely organized group in love with peace and the Earth - and love itself.

About 200 members of the group have arrived in recent days and are busily setting up camp in the Green Mountain National Forest for the expected masses who will attend their national gathering the week of July 4.

"They're really helping me a lot," Granville Country Store owner Gert Harris says as she stacks up can after can of pipe tobacco, ordered for Rainbow members. "I was getting in the hole a little and they've really boosted me up."

Townspeople, generally, have nothing but good things to say about the Rainbows so far, but their proclivity to smoke marijuana and dance in the nude has raised a few eyebrows.

The gathering has also created headaches for Y.Robert Iwamoto, the district ranger for the Rochester Ranger District of the United States Forest Service.

Iwamoto and the Forest Service are responsible for everything in the forest, from trail markings and maintenance to law enforcement.

As a result, the rainbow's choice of Granville for the national gathering dropped a massive logistics problem squarely in his lap.

"At this point it's a little mind boggling," Granville Twon Clerk Wendy Eramo said Thursday.

"We've been strapped," Iwmoto said. "We don't have very many personnel here. It's taxing. Not only is it physical, monetary, it's also psychological as well."

THE RAINBOWS The Rainbow Family (there is no relationship between the Rainbow Family and the Rainbow Coalition) has existed for 20 years and members gather each year in a different site chosen by a group of scouts who search the country for the perfect spot to commune, talk, pray for peace and enjoy the outdoors.

The group is a diverse lot, comprised of people from every walk of life. Though many are self-described hippies who spend most of their time traveling and working in the peace movement and on environmental causes, others hold full-time jobs as doctors, nurses, emergency meical technicians, fishing guides, truch drivers, school teachers, midwives, auto mechanics and even lawyers.

They go by names such as Road Runner, Love 22, Red Moon Song and Water, often taking names reflective of their love for the Earth and desire to improve the environment.

Though family members are spread throughout the United States and often only see each other a few times a year, theere is raw emotion, love and happiness in the air when members talk. Those are their common bonds.

"If you approach the Rainbow Family with an open mind, you will see our vision - and that's world peace," Road Runner waves as he strolls through the camp.

Visitors are greeted with hugs and handshakes, and members constantly say "I love you" to each other.

The group will accept anyone, but honesty is at a premium.

Liars are banished from the camp by consensus.

There are no formal leaders in the Rainbow Family. When decisions must be made, members gather in circles or groups and each is given the opportunity to voice his or her opinion. Only when a consensus is reached dows the discussion end.


The national gathering is just that - nothing more.

Rainbow Family members who have already arrived are preparing slit trenches for toilets, up to 100 tent-kitchens, gathering areas and plans for parking and shuttling members through miles of National Forest from Texas Falls north. That will be the only way into the camp.

Since no one is "in charge," family members rely on each other to pitch in and help with the work, providing food and making sure everything gets done.

The gathering is intended as an opportunity to commune with nature and other family menbers.

There are no tape cassette players or radios blasting, but bongo drums and the strum of guitar players mix with the babling tributaries of the White River and the swich of the mountain grasses in the breeze.

Somehow, without being told what to do, everyone does something.

Some Rainbows have begun setting up the kitchens, others digging the toilets, one group built a tea house and others have set up a MASH-like medical unit complete with licensed medical personnel.

Several women plan to have babies inthe forest.

"It's all through Love," Road Runner says. "It works. People volunteer to do stuff, and it gets done. It may not get done when you want it to, but it gets done. It's pretty much catch as catch can." Red Moon Song, a grandmother with three children in their late 20s and an 8-year-old grandson, said the group represents the best in people in general. Members help fed others, think of the good of the group before themselves and act accordingly.

"We're showing responsibility to each other and to nature," Red Moon Song said. "I think it's a very interesting educational opportunity. As a mother, these are all my children. Working so we all have something and others don't have nothing is part of it. It works. It really works."

There are problems sometimes, however.

Occasionally gawkers show up to watch people walking around naked or lying inthe grass in the buff.

Members ofthe Rainbow Family openly smoke marijuana, though they oppose the use of harder drugs like cocaine and acid. As a group they are also opposed to drinking alcohol, but many members do drink and congregate in a separate part of the camp, the only area where alcohol is allowed.

Harris sold 20 kegs of beer to family members last week, she said.

Granville, population 309, has always been a sleepy little town, but these days the Granville Country Store can't keep enough beer, tobacco or condoms on hand, Harris said.

In Granville, Hancock andRochester, residents have embraced members of the family, though the sheer number of people expected has some others worried.

There is also uncertainty about how many Rainbows will show up, and even Rainbow members say it is impossible to estimate.

At the Granville Country Store, Harris has already hired three new employees to handle the influx of people, and in Rochester Bill and Nancy Picknell, owners of the Marcket Basket, are bracing for a big increase in business as well.

"We talked with one local member, and he suggested stocking lots of pipe tobacco for rolling cigarettes, health foods, vegetables and things like that," Bill Picknell said.

"The Fourth of July weekend is going to be an absolute zoo and that's not counting the normal tourists that come in, and that's enough by itself," Nancy Picknell said.

Granville selectmen are concerned about the influx of people, but primarily becauseof the number of cars, trucks, vans and old school buses that are expected.

Three years ago the Rainbows held a regional gathering with about 1,200 people in Granville, and townspeople say that went smoothly.

"That was peaceful and no big deal," Eramo said.


Since the Rainbows first began to meet in 1971, they have always gathered on National Forest land. The forests are publicly owned, and though the Forest Service has tried to fight the gatherings in the past, most recently in 1988, they have lost every court battle.

In 1988, a federal judge ruled that the Rainbows had a constitutional right to assemble on federally owned lands. As a result, Iwamoto and other Forest Service officials have been obliged to cooperate with the Rainbows.

They have helped in planning the camping areas and arranged for public meetings to be held so townspeople can ask questions of Rainbow members.

Though thousands of people camping in the forest for weeks on end could have major impacts on the environment, Iwamoto said the Rainbows have a good record of restoring the gathering sites and often improving them.

When the gatherings end, a group of 200 or so Rainbows normally stays for two weeks to clean up the forest, plant new grass and plants where vegetation was killed and make erosion control improvements.

"They are very proud of the fact that when they leave the site, they do a very good job of leaving the site clean and rehabilitating any damage that may have occurred," Iwamoto said.

In the past there have been problems between Forest Service officers and members of the Rainbows, but Iwmoto and group members say things have gone smoothly so far.


Marijuana smoking, which is widespread in the camp, is, of course illegal,as is nude dancing. Vehicle parking could also provide troubles for Iwamoto, his staff and law enforcement officers from the Addison County Sheriff's Dept., the Vermont State Police and an emergency management team to be sent by the Forest Service.

The service has legal jurisdiction of law enforcement efforts.

Iwamoto said applicable laws will be upheld, but what actions law enforcement officers will take to uphold the law are unclear given the size of the event.

"Frankly, we need to talk about that amongst ourselves," Iwamoto said.

"We're not playing around - we can't. We want to avoid any type of potential problem."

A meeting between officials from the various agencies involved is set for June 19.

One big concern for Iwamoto is the impact of the gathering on the towns of Hancock and Granville, though he said the Rainbows themselves were usually not the cause of problems in the past.

He noted that if just 10,000 people showed up, the group would be geometrically larger than Granville.

"That would make it the fourth-largest city in Vermont." he said.

"We're very concerned about the impact on the comunity and the people.

"Gatherings of this type tend to draw people from outside the Rainbow group, and they tend to cause problems. We don't want to burden the town."

The Rainbows, for their part, say they don't want to be a burden either.

"We're just here to enjoy the land, be at peace and reflect on things a bit," one member, simply named William, said "We don't want to upset anyone, we want to embrace them.

Vermont Report | PCU Administrative Record | Rainbow Regs Page