'Rainbow Family' members ordered to leave California forest or face fines or jail time

Hippies forming a Supper Circle at a US Rainbow Family Gathering.
The "Rainbow Gathering" in 2004. The U.S. Forest Service has ordered this year's event to leave Plumas National Forest. (Tristan Savatier / Getty Images)

The U.S. Forest Service ordered hundreds of people gathered for a “Rainbow Family” celebration at an unsanctioned camp to vacate Plumas National Forest within 48 hours or face fines or jail time.

The agency issued the order Wednesday to the more than 500 members of the Rainbow Family, known as the “largest non-organization of non-members in the world.” The group doesn’t have and hasn’t applied for a special-use permit required for any event with 75 or more people, the agency said. If they refuse to leave their camp, about 5 miles north of Antelope Lake Recreation Area, within 48 hours of the order, they could face up to $5,000 in fines or up to six months in jail.

The group holds a gathering every year during the first week of July at national forests. The first gathering took place in 1972 at the Arapaho National Forest in Denver, according to the Forest Service.

The group describes itself as having no organization and no leaders. The gatherings, which are free and open to the public, entail meditation, praying and observing in silence.

Read more: Rainbow Family Gathering, 'legacy of the original hippies,' is returning to California. Not everyone is feeling the love

Based on previous events, called “Rainbow Gatherings,” the group tends to set up camps and kitchens, with working ovens, along with medical stations and a “Main Meadow” to congregate for meals, Hilary Markin, a spokesperson for the Forest Service incident management team, said at a Tuesday online meeting.

The kitchens and ovens are a violation of fire restrictions, Markin said. The group also tends to dig latrine sites and holes for compost pits and gray water.

During last year’s event, which took place in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, the gathering spanned 300 acres and included 23 camps, Markin said. Nearly 2,200 people attended during the peak of the event.

Rainbow Family members arrive in the Routt National Forest north of
Rainbow Family members arrive in Routt National Forest north of Steamboat Springs, Colo., for the 2006 event. (Ed Andrieski / Associated Press)

This year’s gathering in Plumas National Forest is expected to attract around 10,000 people and had already reached 900 acres as of Tuesday, officials said.

During the Tuesday meeting, Coda Whitt, commander of the incident management team, said that there was “zero tolerance” for polluting, littering and dumping into the waterway and that “immediate action” would be taken if those actions are discovered.

“We’re always behind the curve in trying to get ahead of where they’re gonna go next so that we can try and get stuff in place on the ground to try and stop it before it gets too big,” Whitt said.

Read more: Construction of wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills to partially close 101 Freeway

Law enforcement officers did a walk-through of the gathering site and are looking out for any public safety concerns, Markin said.

Immediately after the event, group members usually take down the infrastructure for the camps, de-compact the soil and try to restore the forest the best that they can, Markin said. Some members stay behind after the gathering to continue to rehabilitate the land.

The Plumas County Sheriff’s Office has warned attendees that “there will be a substantial law enforcement presence” to “enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward any illegal activities or behaviors that threaten public safety or our natural resources.”

Residents of Plumas, with a population of about 19,000, have been told to expect delays and traffic as people converge on the area for the gathering.

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.