Steamboat Springs Members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light already have arrived in Routt County, and Steamboat Springs officials have begun ramping up for the tens of thousands still to come.
U.S. Forest Service officials estimate that between 15,000 and 20,000 members of the Rainbow Family will gather in Big Red Park in North Routt from July 1 to 7.
What: Community forum regarding Rainbow Family of Living Light
Where: Citizens Meeting Room, Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.
When: 9 a.m., June 23
Call: City of Steamboat Springs, 879-2060
The Rainbow Gathering is an annual event held around the July 4 holiday. It began in 1972. Last year's event in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia drew an estimated 15,000 people, the Forest Service reported. The 2004 event peaked at 19,000 people in the Modoc National Forest in California.
Forest Service officials said Thursday that the more than 74 members that have arrived in North Routt have not submitted a special use permit and are gathered illegally.
A permit is required for noncommercial group use of U.S. National Forest land for any gathering or activity of 75 or more people. The permit is free.
A forum is planned for June 23 to inform the public about the potential impacts the group may have on the city and how residents can best be prepared to handle the situation.
Public Safety Director J.D. Hays said officers with the Steamboat Springs Police Department, Routt County Sheriff's Office and employees of the Routt County Office of Emergency Management have started discussions about what might happen in the city with the arrival of an additional 20,000 people during the Fourth of July weekend.
"Law enforcement plans to gear up and modify shifts to deal with the situation," he said. "At this point, we're not anticipating having any kind of problems that we wouldn't expect to see with any group of this size."
Police officers already have issued a few tickets to individuals who have been caught loitering or panhandling in front of convenience, grocery and retail stores.
Two members of the Rainbow Family were given verbal warnings Wednesday afternoon for loitering in front of City Market and 7-Eleven. A 23-year-old transient woman was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of loitering because she reportedly was harassing convenience store patrons for money at 7-Eleven.
Police Capt. Joel Rae said the issues officers have been handling haven't been taxing yet, but he anticipates the loitering, panhandling, overnight camping and thefts to increase as more members of the family reach Routt County.
"What we're seeing now is indicative of things to come," he said.
Rae said members of the Rainbow Family need to be aware of the city's municipal ordinance that makes "loitering for the purpose of begging" and camping overnight within city limits illegal.
"This is going to be a no-tolerance situation," he said. "Those who do beg will be issued tickets, as will those who are caught camping in city parks, or anywhere in the city."
While police have safety and legal concerns, other city officials are concerned with the impact on local residents and business owners.
U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Ottaviano said she does not think the members of the Rainbow Family will be spending much time in Steamboat Springs because their purpose is to be outside in nature.
However, Ottaviano said residents should be aware that the members of the Rainbow Family will visit Steamboat Springs and surrounding municipalities to get supplies, which could cause some strain on business owners or patrons. To access the gathering site, participants must travel through Steamboat Springs.
"We really don't anticipate them being in town, other than to get supplies," Ottaviano said. "They will be in town at some point to get groceries or other supplies they'll need."
Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Assoc-
iation, said she is encouraging local businesses to recognize that several thousands of people may be patronizing their businesses and that they should be prepared.
"We want to make sure all of our businesses are prepared for this. Stock up on inventory and staffing levels," she said. "Stock up the customer service levels."
Interim city manager Wendy DuBord said Wednesday that the city always has invited visitors and that she hopes the residents of Steamboat Springs will understand that there might be strains on transportation as the members of the Rainbow Family come through the city.
"We've always been a very welcoming community," she said. "We open our doors to people who are here for the same reasons we are.
"We would like to stress that the local citizens and visitors alike should take it easy that (Fourth of July) weekend. Traffic might be more congested, and there might be longer wait lines at restaurants, but I encourage everyone to just slow down and enjoy the scenery and the weekend."
George Krawzoff, the city's director of transit and transportation services, said some of the traffic issues that inevitably will arise can be soothed if people pay attention to parking limits and use alternative transportation.
"As more people and more cars come to town, it's important to recognize the two-hour parking limits on the streets," he said. "Don't try to rub the chalk off your tires, move your car and then come back. You'll still be ticketed.
"It's important we have these spaces available to accommodate everyone."
Krawzoff said he encourages everyone to take advantage of the Main Street Steamboat Springs shuttle and free Steamboat Springs Transit bus system during the Fourth of July weekend.