With thousands gathering in a northern Wisconsin national forest this week for the annual Rainbow Gathering, some are criticizing law enforcement’s presence.
Law enforcement officers say their presence is necessary to ensure the safety of gatherers and monitor the status of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest’s natural resources. However, many members of the Rainbow Family say law enforcement isn’t needed, citing their peaceful nature and ability to police themselves.
The Rainbow Gathering is expected to draw around 10,000 people to the weeklong event running through July 7, which is centered on a prayer for world peace on the Fourth of July. The annual gathering is located in a different national forest each year, and is known for its counterculture associations.
Adam Buxbaum, who is otherwise known by his rainbow name Finch and is from California, said enforcement isn’t needed at all. Officers intimidate gatherers by walking through the gathering with guns and pulling attendees over as they drive on roads leading to the gathering, he said. He added that this has deterred people from attending gatherings.
Hilary Markin, public affairs officer for U.S. Forest Service, said they want to treat everybody with respect. "We're not out there to harm anybody," she said.
“The whole purpose of having law enforcement available is (to protect) health and safety,” she said. “We’re out there to ensure everybody can have a safe and enjoyable time, just like any other large gathering of folks ... you’re going to have a large law enforcement presence.”
Buxbaum only wants officers in the gathering to share where attendees shouldn’t go in order to protect natural elements such as milkweed, he said.
Officers enter the gathering daily to monitor and protect natural resources of land that the Forest Service is in charge of managing, Markin said. The team working with the gathering is comprised of members from the U.S. Forest Service, Bayfield County Sheriff's Office, Wisconsin State Patrol and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“Whether that’s a tree being cut down, whether that’s somebody fishing without a fishing license,” she said. “Just like we would normally look for on a normal patrol of the national forest.”
Another part of their job is to ensure people are following federal, state and local laws, Marking said. “We’re not out there looking for anything in particular. We’re just having a presence to ensure the health and safety of everybody at the gathering,” she said.
The Forest Service monitoring resulted in the closure of Happles Lake to swimmers Wednesday. The lake, also called “Hippies Lake” by gatherers, tested high for bacteria this week, and will stay closed until bacteria levels test lower, Markin said. It's not clear what caused an increase in bacteria.