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

Hippies forming a Supper Circle at a US Rainbow Family Gathering.
Individuals form a circle at a Rainbow Famly Gathering in 2004. (Tristan Savatier / Getty Images)

For attendees, the upcoming Rainbow Family Gathering in Plumas National Forest is a chance to celebrate community, peace, love and healing.

But authorities in this sparsely populated corner of California have other words for the affair: non-permitted, disruptive and potentially destructive.

That’s why the thousands of people expected to camp as part of the event in early July can expect to have company this year. The Plumas County Sheriff’s Office is warning 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.”

Members of a management team assembled by the U.S. Forest Service have already begun enforcing parking restrictions barring people from leaving vehicles farther than one car length off the road, an agency spokesperson confirmed to The Times.

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Despite the warnings, members of the Rainbow Family — many of whom have gathered from across the country each year for decades — say they aren’t changing their plans.

Between 2,000 and 8,000 people are expected to camp at the site during the celebration July 1-7.

“It’s a community,” said Adam Buxbaum, 36, who has been attending since he was an infant. “We go there on paper — and it’s the truth — to pray for peace on the Fourth of July. That’s primary, but secondarily, we go there to spend time with all of our dearest friends and family once a year.”

Rainbow Family members arrive in Routt National Forest.
The Rainbow Family Gathering was held in Routt National Forest north of Steamboat Springs, Colo., in 2006. (Ed Andrieski / Associated Press)

Each year, the U.S. Forest Service calls attention to the Rainbow Family Gathering, pointing out that organizers refuse to get a special-use permit, which is mandatory for groups of 75 people or more.

Authorities have also said attendees engage in public nudity, drink alcohol to excess and use drugs.

Some people do go without clothes, Buxbaum acknowledged, though that’s “a really kind of weird thing to accuse people of doing in a malicious way.”

He said nudity is prohibited around children’s play areas, and alcohol has always been discouraged.

And pot? Some people pass on the grass, while others partake, he said.

“We believe in letting people express themselves as long as they’re not harming their neighbors,” he said. “The Rainbow Gathering is the legacy of the original hippies.”

Attendees are known to set up extensive infrastructure: welcome tents, outdoor kitchens and areas dedicated for medical needs.

Officials have warned residents of Plumas, a county with a population of about 19,000 in northeastern California, near where the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range meet, to expect traffic and delays as more people arrive in the area.

“We urge the organizers and participants of the Rainbow Family Gathering to respect our community, residents and local businesses. Any unlawful activities that cause harm or damage will result in appropriate law enforcement action,” the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Wednesday.

Hilary Markin, a spokesperson for the Forest Service incident management team, said the agency’s top priorities are ensuring the health and safety of participants and shielding natural resources.

“We have a large incident that’s taking place in a general forest area, where there are critical resources that we want to make sure are protected,” she said.

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Buxbaum, whose nickname at the gathering is “Finch,” calls the movement “one of the longest-running acts of civil disobedience.”

The first Rainbow Gathering was held in 1972 in Colorado. Each year since, individuals have converged in various locations — but always outdoors.

Though Buxbaum is dismayed by the constant police presence, it hasn’t dampened his desire to attend.

But attendance has been dwindling. In years past, it was typical for 20,000 people to camp. This year, he said, he’ll be surprised if there are 10,000.

“A lot of people have quit coming to the gatherings permanently because they’re tired of being searched and harassed every single year,” Buxbaum said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.