Thousands of aging hippies and hippie wannabees are expected to gather on the north slope of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest over the next three weeks. But law enforcement agencies are already monitoring their arrival.
Earlier this week, nearly 200 members of the counterculture Rainbow Family of the Living Light began assembling on the shores of Lyman Lake in the Uinta Mountains to plan a location for their annual gathering, which typically draws about 20,000 people.
Dave Booth, chief deputy with the Summit County Sheriff's Office, visited their camp Wednesday and was told the Rainbow Family had decided to stay in the area and would make a final decision by Sunday night on where the gathering would be held.
"We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," Booth said.
The best scenario would be if the Rainbow Family moved its camp five miles north into Wyoming, he said. The worst, would be a lawless, weeklong party causing vast environmental damage to public lands.
"From what I have seen they are a peaceful group," Booth said. "But they are also defiant to many laws and law personnel. They told me flat out they like to smoke marijuana."
The Rainbow Family has its own policing group that met Booth as he entered the camp through a gate consisting of cars parked in a tight line with one opening. Men with radios announced the officer's arrival at camp.
"I didn't see any drugs, and no citations have been made thus far. We are tying to make our presence known and gather as much information as possible," Booth said.
The Forest Service has met with some Rainbow Family members to work out a contract for the gathering, but the effort is difficult because the family has no leaders or representatives.
"If they don't get a permit, we will ticket the people we have been dealing with," said Kathy Jo Pollock, a national forest spokeswoman.
Tickets could bring as much as a $100 fine.
"They could and probably will fight the fine in court," Pollock added.
The Rainbow Family has a long history of court battles with federal officials dating back to the '70s when the gatherings began.
Members believe it is their constitutional right to assemble on federal lands. Their last gathering in Utah was in 1974 near Bryce Canyon National Park in the Dixie National Forest. Last year, they met in Ottawa National Forest in Michigan. In 2001 they met in the Boise National Forest.
A National Forest incident management team was created years ago to work primarily with the group. They have been suggesting locations where the people might have less of an impact on the local environment. They have also helped plan rehabilitation efforts that include removal of human and animal wastes, as well as reseeding.
"We want them to tread lightly — not leave a trace — but we also know that will be impossible with this size of a group," Pollock said.
Once Rainbow Family selects a site, police and federal agencies will begin discussions with nearby towns on how to best manage the group.
"At that time we will decide how much assistance we will need from outside and federal agencies," Booth said.