As the Rainbow Gathering officially starts this week, here's a quick rundown of what you need to know about the gathering and Rainbow Family. The information was gathered through multiple interviews with members of the Rainbow Family and officials with the U.S. Forest Service.
What is the Rainbow Gathering?
The Rainbow Gathering is an annual, week-long meeting of the Rainbow Family. They gather and camp each year at a new national forest location and pray for world peace. The group, which began in the 1970s, is often associated with counterculture movements.
When is it?
The event officially runs July 1-7, but many people show up early and stay past the official end date. As of June 20, Bayfield County Sheriff Paul Susienka said at a town hall there were around 500 people at the site already.
Where is it?
This year's gathering is in the northeast area of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
Why do they gather?
The annual gathering is to pray for world peace. The "prayer for peace" occurs July 4, according to gatherer Bucket Harmony.
How many people are attending?
Members of the Rainbow Family members estimate that upwards of 10,000 people could attend the event throughout its course. The U.S. Forest Service is also planning for the same number of attendees, as around 10,000 people is common for gatherings in the Midwest, said Hilary Markin, public affairs officer for USFS.
Who can attend?
Anyone can attend the gathering.
What do people do at the gathering?
While the main focus is on the July 4th prayer for world peace, there are numerous other activities. There is a stage, children's area, workshops and other events.
Who runs the gathering?
No one. There are no leaders, committees or hierarchy in the Rainbow Family. Instead, decisions are reached by coming to a consensus.
Why northern Wisconsin?
The Rainbow Family chooses a location during its annual spring council, where the location is decided by a consensus agreement. They choose a location in an area different from the previous year's area. Last year's gathering was in Georgia's Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.
Has the Rainbow Gathering ever been in this area before?
Yes. They held their 19th annual gathering in 1990 in the Superior National Forest north of Grand Marais.
Do they have a permit to gather?
No, but permits are required for gatherings of over 75 people in national forests.
At the town hall, a USFS official said they were working with the group to obtain one.
However, a member of the Rainbow Family said no one would sign a permit, as the group doesn’t have leaders.
How does construction in the forest impact the gathering?
Many roads are under construction and/or closed in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest because of damages from storms in 2016 and 2018.
With the forest's narrow roads and numerous closures, the USFS is working to ensure there is sufficient parking. It will mark areas where parking isn't allowed.
Updated information on construction, road closures and detours can be found on the USFS’ website.
What are the environmental considerations?
The USFS has people at the gathering already. They are working with attendees and flagging off areas to ensure certain natural resources, like water sources, are protected.
The Rainbow Family also stays at the site until it’s cleaned, members say. They follow a "leave no trace" model and will take out all trash when the gathering is done. In coordination with the USFS, they will reseed areas as needed.
Members of the family are encouraging others to camp at least 300 feet away from the nearby lake to ensure their water supply stays clean.
What are law enforcement’s plans?
Local law enforcement has already increased patrols for the event, and will continue to do so throughout the gathering. Other agencies helping include the Bayfield County Sheriff’s Office, USFS, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and state patrol.
The USFS will dispatch an incident command team, like the ones used to manage forest fires out west, for the gathering.
How is local law enforcement's work being funded?
The USFS will compensate local law enforcement departments that work overtime for the gathering.