Forest Service Officers Abandon Checkpoint After 'Hippie' Run-In
Rainbow Family Gathering Expected To Draw Tens Of Thousands
POSTED: 8:51 am MDT June 21, 2006
UPDATED: 2:00 pm MDT June 21, 2006
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. -- U.S. Forest Service officers drew their shotguns but then got into their vehicles and abandoned a checkpoint without firing a shot after about 200 people at the Rainbow Family gathering surrounded the officers, an agency spokeswoman said.
"We're not going to compromise the safety of our officers," agency spokeswoman Denise Ottaviano said Tuesday. "We have to reavaluate whether or not we're going to continue any checkpoints because of what happened."
At least 500 people have converged in Routt National Forest for the gathering but the Forest Service had been turning away new arrivals from entering because the group hasn't gotten a permit for large groups. The group's annual event, often described as a huge gathering of hippies, is expected to draw between 15,000 and 20,000 people to the Routt National Forest for a weeklong July 4th event.
About 60 to 80 people already at the event site approached the officers who had been turning people away and surrounded them in a "hostile manner", Ottaviano said.
She said more than 100 other people who had been hanging out near the checkpoint because they were not allowed in joined the smaller group, forcing the officers to retreat.
Ottaviano said the checkpoint has been disbanded. No one was stopping people from entering the area but officers will continue their patrols, she said.
The Forest Service began issuing citations on Monday and so far about 60 people have been cited, she said.
Groups of 74 or more are required to get a free permit but no one has responded to the agency's request to apply for one, she said. The group can still apply for a permit and the Forest Service must issue a response within 48 hours.
In the meantime, the Forest Service has closed two motorized trails near the gathering near Big Red Park to avoid any potential conflict between recreationists and the Rainbow Family, she said. Trails 1204 and 1199 are set to be closed through Aug. 20 because it could take that long for all the participants to leave.
The group gathers each year on public lands. Last year, about 15,000 turned out for the event in Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia and the 2004 event drew about 19,000 to the Modoc National Forest in California.
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