Rainbow gathering explained

Residents raise concerns on crowd

By Betsy Liley Free Press Staff Writer

HANCOCK - After being satisfied on most of hteir concerns about a Fourth of July event that could attract as many as 20,000 people to Green Mountain National Forest, residents of the area joined hands and prayed Monday night with members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light.

The Rainbow Family has met annually for 19 years in national forests, drawing crowds of 3,000 to 30,000. This 20th gathering is the first in the North-east. The loosely knit group says that it believes in the First Amendment right to gather on public lands and focuses its energies on peace and the Earth. "My fear is how many people are going to converge on this tiny piece of land," Judy Adler said, echoing concerns of many who filled Hancock Methodist Church on Vermont 100 for a meeting organized by the Rainbow Family. Others at the meeting criticized the Rainbow Family for what they said is an invasion of the small White River Valley in Addison and Windsor counties. Not only did they charge that the group's mountainside presence is luring local youth to its so called A Camp to which alcohol use is confined, but they questioncd whether taxpayer money should be used to provide law enforcement and other needs.

"You're bringing a city here, when we -- the voters -- have no control over anything. We don't have my say. I don't think that's fair," said one woman, who declined to identify herself. "You have an impact on the young people of the valley; it's not a good impact."

Rainbow Family members, such as Joan McMurray of Maine, acknowledged the concerns in explaining how Vermont was chosen for this year's gathering.

"You guys have the most beautiful piece of land. You win. You lose," she said, drawing chuckles. By the end of the meeting resident Betsy McRae said her worries were answered. "it's kind of an opportunity for the valley, that something different can happen, and it can be good," she said.

Most residents who attended said it was a mix of environmental concerns and curiosity that drew them. "When we leave, we will disappear. Absolutely. There isn't a cigarette butt left." a Rainbow Family member named Water Singing on the Rocks said. He arrived Monday from Kentucky.

Warren DuBois, who is leading a National Forest Service team assigned to the event, agreed. "I saw the result when they left (a gathering in another state). It was in good shape." DuRois said.

Citizens worried about the impacts of a temporary city -- which would be Vermont's second largest after Burlington if 20,000 people attend. Parking, traffic, shoplifting and pandhandling were among issues raised. Robert Iwamoto, the Rochester district forest ranger, said Rainbow Family members are struggling with the parking situation.

Among the proposals are using meadows near Texas Falls for about 1,500 cars, renting land and using Middlebury College Snow Bowl parking lots.

Alcohol was a persistent question. Rainbow Family members emphasized that they discourage alcohol use. Because of complaints from local residents. A Camp members have begun checking the age of visitors to the area, one Rainbow Family member said.

Cert Harris, who owns the Granville Country Store, defended the Rainbow Family, saying stories of local youths' drinking are false. "I've seen towns People go up there and cause trouble," she said, adding that teen-agers usually appeared at A Camp with their own alcohol.

Other residents had questions about how the Rainbow Family was organized, what it stood for and even how they fed the thousands of people who attended the annual event.

'Everybody puts their money in.... We share everything," said Roberto, Washington, D.C.. resident. "Whatever you have to give it just what we need to take. Whatever you need to take is just what we have to give," said Water Singing on the Rocks, referring to myriad educational program, health care provisions and work assignments.

"it's all about unity," said Karen, a native Vermonter who lives in Massechusetts. "We're a family."

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