Carbon County Braces for Onslaught of 10,000 ‘Rainbow Family’ Members This Weekend

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Carbon County officials are working with the U.S. Forest Service to prepare Wyoming and Colorado for the arrival of thousands of members of the Rainbow Family of Light attending the group’s 50th annual gathering.

“We found out two weeks ago that they were going to be in the Routt National Forest,” said Aaron Voos, spokesman for the US Forest Service. “We knew they wanted to be somewhere in Colorado, but due to the group’s loose leadership, we didn’t have much time to prepare.”

More than 10,000 Rainbow Family attendees are expected in the Adams Park area of ​​the Routt National Forest, about 13 miles south of the Wyoming border, over Independence Day weekend.

“We went to Craig, Colorado with the Carbon County firefighter and the sheriff’s deputy,” Carbon County emergency manager Lenny Layman said. “I wanted to see a general layout of Adams Park and get an idea of ​​where they would pass.”

The Rainbow Family is “the world’s largest nonmember organization,” according to one of its websites, The group states that it has no leaders or organization and promotes intentional community building, non-violence and alternative lifestyles.

The group has been gathering on national forest lands since 1972, when it held its first gathering near Strawberry Lake in Colorado’s Arapaho National Forest, the Forest Service reported.

Due to the group’s lack of leadership, the Rainbow family does not apply for the special permit that the Forest Service would typically require for such a large gathering.

“This is an illegal and unauthorized gathering on public lands,” said Hilary Markin, spokeswoman for the Forest Service’s National Rainbow Incident Management Team (NRIMT).

Regardless of the legality of the rally, Layman said it is Wyoming’s responsibility to prepare for an emergency.

“If a fire starts southwest of the event, exit routes to the south could be blocked, making evacuation viable only north into Wyoming,” he said. “If we don’t think about these things before they happen, then we’re caught on our heels.”

Illegal assembly

On Monday, more than 2,000 participants were already on site in the Adams Park area, the NRIMT reported.

Much like wildfires and other natural disasters, the Rainbow Family gathering is assigned its own incident management team, said Markin, who has been on the team since 2019.

“We have about 60 people on the management team,” she said. “We’re here to engage the public, answer questions, address health and safety risks, and reduce the number of actions that could impact the earth.”

Voos said one of those impacts is caused by the number of vehicles that can accompany 10,000 people. Rainbow Family gatherings are usually held in areas accessible to vehicles and although the forest has parking spaces, the number of vehicles could damage the resource.

“When you start talking about thousands of people, there’s the potential for serious impacts,” Voos explained.

For his part, Markin said band members will try to negate the impact of their vehicles by carpooling on buses and RVs.

While working with the NRIMT in 2021, Markin said she saw a rally draw around 7,000 people who traveled to the area in around 2,000 vehicles.

“Even with carpooling, it’s still a significant impact,” Markin said.

According to NRIMT documents, the Forest Service has periodically cited members of the Rainbow Family for not obtaining permits. However, the agency is also working with the family to adhere to a resource protection plan in lieu of a special use permit to protect the health and safety of people at the incident and in the surrounding community, to ensure that sensitive resources are protected, to minimize any environmental damage and to coordinate the cleanup and rehabilitation of the event site after the event, the documents say.

“Group members usually start showing up at the staging site a week or two in advance,” Markin said. “Then after the event, the Rainbow Family will bring in a group and rehabilitate the area, which can take weeks.”

Always ready

Routt County and Colorado officials are primary responders to the rally should anything go wrong, but Layman said the Carbon County Communications Center is ready should the need arise.

The Carbon County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) could dispatch Carbon County resources, such as medical or law enforcement personnel, upon request, he said.

“What I ask of Colorado partners is that all requests for resources other than 911 go through our EOC,” Layman said. “That way, rather than someone calling every fire station or police department in Carbon County to locate a needed resource, all calls come to the same location, and we can find them the resources they need.”

County officials are also working with partner agencies to create an evacuation plan. While the most likely escape route would take the family members further south into Colorado, Layman said he wants Wyoming to be prepared if it proves to be the only viable means of escape.

Although the rally won’t last more than a few weeks, Voos said the Forest Service’s main goal is to make sure it negatively affects the landscape for years to come.

“Where there are lots of people, there are lots of feet, wheels and infrastructure,” he said. “So there are impacts on land, wildlife and natural resources.”

Go to for daily NRIMT reports on the rally.

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