1991 Vermont Gathering Report



The 1991 National Rainbow Family Gathering was a media event. During the first week in June the Forest prepared a general news story concerning the gathering, but then strategized to hold release of the story until the third week in June in the hopes of reducing attention and crowd size. However, following the June 5 meeting between Forest Supervisor Hoffman and Governor Snelling, the Burlington Free Press called the Forest PAO to verify a lead that the Rainbows were coming to Vermont. The following day the Free Press ran a front page story and the Forest sent its press release to other area media contacts.

Coverage built continually throughout June with frequent stories in the Burlington Free Press and the Rutland Herald (two widely read regional papers) and periodic stories in other local papers. Media attention peaked and remained intense during the week of July 4th. Regional and local papers carried stories every or every-other day. Radio and television coverage was extensive during this period. National coverage was evident this week with stories coining off the wire service or through on-site visits and interviews. The Boston Globe, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and TIME magazine featured the Rainbow Gathering on or around July 4th. Local and regional media continued to cover the gathering through the clean-up phases. (See Appendix G for a compilation of news clippings.) Several free lance writers and photographers also visited the event, pursuing stories for specialized publications.

Media coverage of the event was fair and accurate. The national media tended to focus on the Rainbows and the event itself, while local reporters routinely sought interviews with administering agency officials. Typically the agencies were shown in 8 good light. Some area residents as well as IC team members felt the media portrayed the Rainbows too favorably, failing to report the negative side of "A" camp, drug use, flag burning and general nuisance incidents in town. The media did, however, report on the Rainbow Family's early impact on Vermont social service organizations, as well as the later drug arrests and river contamination problems associated with the gathering. Overall, media coverage was well-rounded and complete.

Through all phases of the gathering, Forest and IC policy was to provide information and assistance to media representatives upon request. No effort was made to attract attention or publicize the event. The media conducted their business independently, unescorted by Forest Service personnel. Visiting reporters were urged to stop at the ICP information center before entering the gathering site so that PAO's could answer questions and provide accurate status updates. Reporters visiting the information center were offered a "press pass" which entitled them to temporary (day use only) parking privileges close to the site. This was a mutually beneficial arrangement: a valuable time and energy saver for the media and a drawing card for the lnfo Center.

Media relations throughout the gathering were very good. Existing working relationships were strengthened and many new ones built. In general, the cooperating agencies gained a lot of good press coverage and the Green Mountain NF gained a lot in terms of improving its identity and image locally and statewide.

The Rainbow Family is extremely conscious and concerned about their public image, especially as it is portrayed in the news media. Their desire to avoid any and all negative press coverage provides a strong incentive for the Family to perform as required and/or to change unacceptable behavior. By maintaining honest and complete media coverage of the event the Forest Service can exert subtle pressure on Rainbow gatherers to comply with agency rules, regulations and expectations.


The Addison County Sheriff's Department and the USDA Forest Service were lead agencies in the cooperative law enforcement effort that also involved the Caledonia, Orange, Rutland, Washington, Windham and Windsor County Sheriff's departments; the US Border Patrol; US Marshall Services and the Vermont State Police. A full report of the law enforcement operations connected with the 1991 Rainbow Family Gathering has been prepared under separate cover. The following is an overview of the law enforcement organization, its activities and accomplishments.


During the 1991 Rainbow Family Gathering law enforcement personnel acted in a support role to ensure the health and safety of all gathering participants, as well as visitors and residents in the gathering's area. Their activities were guided by an operating plan prepared jointly by the Forest Service and the Addison County Sheriff's Department. Specifically, law enforcement objectives were to 1) maintain a presence of legal authority within the gathering's vicinity; 2) maintain 24-hour patrols around the perimeter of the gathering and rigorously enforce all federal. state and local laws, regulations and ordinances; and 3) respond to evidence of illegal or inappropriate activity within the gathering.

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies formed an interagency organization to meet the objectives. Between June 27 and July 8 the Forest Service provided 16 special agents/law enforcement officers detailed from nine, Region q national forests. Ten of these officers were matched with 10 deputies from participating sheriff's departments forming two-person squads. The six remaining Forest Service officers also formed two-person squads. The 13 squads were divided into two units, each unit working 12 hour overlapping shifts, giving 24-hour law enforcement coverage. Four experienced dispatchers operated the ICP communications network 24 hours a day, working in two-person teams; 12 hour shifts each. The Vermont State Police (VSP) provided four, two-man patrols from June 28 to July 8. These crews were responsible for patrol and interdiction on Vermont state highways and on Forest Service roads not leading to the gathering. They were also on call to assist in other law enforcement activity as needed. The VSP staffed a mobile command unit at the ICP to facilitate communication and coordination. Also during this time period, officers from the US Border Patrol, the US Marshall Services and other agencies assisted law enforcement efforts on an as-needed basis. Law enforcement operations at this time focused on perimeter activities (details discussed below). Entrance into the gathering was as requested or required.

On July 8 the law enforcement organization was downscaled due to reduced need. Four, two-person Forest Service/county deputy squads continued 24-hour patrols. two squads working each 12-hour shift. Dispatch continued 24-hour coverage with one dispatcher per 12-hour shift. The VSP disbanded their operations at the ICP, but remained on call at the Bethel barracks.

Beginning July 8, law enforcement objectives changed and activities expanded with armed law enforcement officers entering the gathering site regularly. The objectives of this action were to 1) reinforce the message that the gathering was officially over and only those involved with clean-up were expected/permitted to remain on site; 2) consolidate the remaining visitors in the main circle area; 3) assist in identifying resource rehabilitation needs; and 4) collect on-site evidence of illegal activities that may have occurred during the gathering tie drug manufacturing, satanic sacrifice, child abduction/abuse). When the armed LEO's first appeared within the gathering it raised some question, but they were generally well received. No feelings of ill will or confrontations were reported. Their presence seemed to hasten visitor exit as well as site clean-up. It also gave the LEO's an opportunity to get to know Family members and gain better understanding and insight into group.


PERIMETER PATROLS - Perimeter patrols between June 27 and July 8 focused on protecting local residents and their property. facilitating traffic flows and maintaining safety on all state and local roads and responding to visitors' needs or calls for help. Law enforcement officers also kept a persistent presence at the access points into the gathering ("front" and "back" gates) to reinforce in everyone's mind that the responsible law enforcement agencies were present to deter and if necessary prosecute inappropriate or illegal behavior.


CAR TOWING - To maintain adequate traffic flow and access for emergency and administrative vehicles it became necessary to prohibit parking on Forest Road 55 leading to back gate and Bus Village, and Forest Road 39 leading to front gate. The roads were so posted beginning June 26, however illegal parking remained a problem. The Forest Service issued a limited number of parking permits to the Rainbow Family allowing them to park supply and shuttle vehicles on FR 55. All other vehicles in violation of the no parking regulation were towed at the owners' expense.

SAFETY CHECK - The Addison County Sheriff's Department, assisted by the US Border Patrol, conducted a safety check along State Route 125 east of Middlebury on July 2. Law enforcement officers stopped 468 vehicles resulting in 82 warnings for defective equipment. Officers involved with the safety check estimated that 70X of those stopped were traveling to or associated with the gathering.

"A" CAMP - Law enforcement officers kept a periodic presence at or around "A" camp which was located near back gate. As in years past, "A"" camp was a persistent concern to both the Rainbow Family and the Forest Service. Officials videotaped portions of this area to document conditions within the camp including environmental impacts. Most encounters between LEO's and "A" camp residents resulted in some amount of verbal abuse or harassment. No serious or physical confrontations occurred, owing largely to the calm, tact and diplomacy of the LEO's on duty. (Refer to "A" Camp on page 21 for further details.)

ASSAULT - On July 2 law enforcement officials were requested to enter the gathering to investigate a reported assault of a female attendee by a male attendee. The investigation resulted in the arrest of the latter.

DEATH - On June 29 the Rainbow Family reported the death of an ii-week old infant to law enforcement officials. The local rescue squad was called to the scene. Forest Service, Sheriff's Department and Vermont State Police personnel worked jointly on the investigation and recovery of the victim. The cause of death, pending confirmation by the Chief Medical Examiner's investigation and final report, was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

DRUG ARRESTS - During the course of the gathering law enforcement officers made several drug arrests. Two male. non-Vermont residents were arrested for possessing and selling significant quantities of LSD. Other arrests and drug seizures were for minor quantities of drugs.

AIR CLOSURE - At the Rainbow Family's request the Forest Service secured an FAA air closure covering a three mile radius around the gathering site for July 4. Air traffic over the gathering often intensifies, especially on July 4, with curiosity seekers trying to get a glimpse of Rainbow activities. This is objectionable to the Family and can become a safety hazard. Although air traffic in this area is typically light, honoring the request was a simple task that demonstrated the agency's willingness to cooperate. There was one violation of the air closure by a local pilot.

A summary of arrests made in connection with the 1991 Rainbow gathering is found in Appendix J.

Law enforcement officers are aware of other criminal activities within the gathering: several cases of unreported sexual misconduct, including one


unsubstantiated rape, as well as unresolved cases of missing children Often crimes are reported to the Rainbow's Shanti Sena group who hand situations internally; no information being forwarded to Legal author Other crimes go completely unreported. One can only assume that a great many more crimes occur within the gathering than are reported or than ever be substantiated.


The following is an estimate, as of October 16, 1991, of what the Green Mountain National Forest expended to administer the 1991 National Rainbow Family Gathering:

County Sheriff's Departments (CLE)
Vermont State Police
(Rental of Rochester High School)
(Includes telephone, communications systems and photocopier rental)
(Includes equipment rental to repair roads)
(Includes camera equipment and replacement of stolen video equipment)
(Includes batteries, lumber, surveying stakes, and gravel for road restoration)
(Includes film processing, excavation work, installation/removal of phones, and radio reprogramming and repair)
TOTAL COST$297.171.



On the last day of each year's gathering the Rainbow Family holds a vision council at which they select a national forest for the succeeding year's event. On July 7, 1990, the Superior National Forest, the Rainbow Family selected the New England biosphere for the site of their 1991 national gathering.

In September of 1990 Rainbow "scouts" with the New England Regional Family (NERF) informed Forest Service officials that they would be looking for potential sites within the Green Mountain, Finger Lakes and White Mountain national forests. In December 1990 Family members indicated that they were interested in finding a site on the Rochester Ranger District of the Green Mountain NF, possibly the Rob Ford Meadows where NERF held its 1988 regional gathering. Family members studied the Rochester District throughout the winter, concluding in March 1991 that the Rob Ford area had inadequate parking opportunities. Some then turned their interest towards the GMNF's Manchester Ranger District and the area near Somerset Resevoir where NERF held its 1989 regional gathering. Other scouts investigated sites in New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania on the White Mountain, Finger Lakes and Allegheny national forests respectively. By May 1991 the scouting party settled on Vermont and the GMNF. but they continued to vacillate between the Rob Ford and Somerset sites. On May 26, 1991 at a Rainbow Family council meeting the Family condensed to hold its 1991 national gathering at the Rob Ford Meadows in Granville, Vermont.

Some Family members were not happy with the Rainbow council's decision and stated they would hold a second gathering at the Somerset site in Woodford, Vermont. As many as 75-100 Family members moved to this site and continued to camp there until Forest Service officials succeeded in moving them from the area.

The Rainbow Family made the final site selection independently. However, the GMNF staff did slot to shape their decision by indicating areas that were socially or environmentally unacceptable to the agency and/or the public. The following guidelines have been used in the past and were helpful during the 1991 site selection process to help steer the Family to an area that could adequately accommodate a crowd of 10,000 to 20,000 people and be acceptable to all. The site for a national Rainbow gathering should:
1) be located away from sensitive areas such as wilderness, Research Natural Areas, cultural resources, R/T/E plants or animal habitats;

2) be located away from permanent and seasonal homes, recreation areas and other places where the presence of the gathering would disrupt normal activity;

3) be in an area where access can be limited to foot travel and where disturbance by normal vehicle travel can be minimized;

4) be in a large enough block of public land to avoid intrusion onto private lands;

5) include an open area from between 10 and 20 acres to accommodate kitchens and other gathering activities;

6) be located on an ecological land type that will resist compaction and erosion and that is also suitable for installation of slit latrines;

7) be located near a water supply, preferably a river with fairly high flow volumes;


8) be within reasonable walking distance (.5 to 1.5 miles) of an area or areas that can accommodate parking of up to several thousand vehicles.

On July 7, 1991 the Rainbow council met to discuss sites for the 1992 national gathering. Discussions focused on Colorado and South Dakota, but the council did not reach final consensus.


A few dozen Rainbow Family members were on site when the final selection was made. Immediately afterwards, about 200-300 Family members arrived to set up a "seed camp" and prepare the site for the big event. This number slowly increased to about 1000 by June 23. Beginning June 28, official daily Population estimates were made based on car counts in the designated parking areas. The number of counted cars was multiplied by a factor of five, the estimated average number of people per car. The graph below shows the population pattern throughout the gathering.


Gathering participants arrived at the site via every imaginable form of transportation: new cars, old junker cars, converted buses, Winebago campers, motorcycles, bicycles, horses and foot travel. The ICP received a call from a chartered bus company in Albany, NY seeking directions to the gathering stating they had five buses scheduled for July 4th. Many Rainbows remarked that they were seeing more hitchhikers arrive at the gathering than usual. Some questioned the population estimates based on this.


As the Rainbow Family originally projected, parking was a major problem throughout the gathering. Initially a Bus Village was identified with capacity for 200 live-in vehicles and overflow capacity for 100 additional vehicles on nearby Forest Road 50. Texas Meadows was selected as front


gate, the meadows providing parking for an estimated 1000 vehicles. (Actually these two sites held 400 and 1350 vehicles respectively.) Based on projections of 15,000 to 20.000 gathering participants, parking for an additional 2000 vehicles was needed.

Forest Service and IC staff encouraged the Rainbow Family to seek parking arrangements on private lands. The Family had intermittent discussions with several local businesses, landowners and Middlebury College who indicated they could make parking facilities available. However, the Family was reluctant to make any commitments, and they remained adamantly against paying for parking. Most of the viable private landowners became frustrated with the Family and broke off negotiations.

The Forest Service maintained that parking was a Family responsibility. However, the IC team strategized a contingency plan. Several forest roads near front gate were identified that would be suitable for one-side-only parking. On June 29 Texas Meadows parking area filled up with 1350 vehicles on site. The IC team opened Forest Road 100 to parking. The Rainbows managed parking along the road, cramming in over 1000 vehicles. They eventually negotiated with a local landowner to use a field south of Forest Road 100, the site holding a maximum of 220 vehicles. Other miscellaneous parking throughout the area accounted for almost 300 additional vehicles.

Forest Road 100 and the private field were several miles from front gate, which required that the Rainbow Family run a shuttle service. Shuttles also transported many attendees from these parking areas to back gate. A variety of vehicles and drivers were used, but the most common was either an open or capped pick-up truck. A local resident ran a horse drawn shuttle wagon for people accessing the gathering through back gate. On and around July 4, would-be attendees waited for up to four hours to be shuttled from the parking site to front gate. Shuttle vehicles were often overloaded and presented a safety concern. One loaded shuttle tipped over on its side; no injuries were reported. There were three instances when law enforcement officials arrested shuttle drivers for DWI.

During the gathering the Forest Service aggressively enforced no parking regulations. Vehicles parked illegally along forest roads accessing the gathering were towed at the owners' expense. This was necessary to maintain adequate traffic flows and to provide for emergency access.

Final Report - Continued

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