Tensions run high in forest

Forest Service abandons checkpoint after incident with Rainbow group

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— The Rainbow Family peace gathering turned hostile Tuesday when a group of attendees began hurling rocks and sticks at law enforcement officers, U.S. Forest Service officials said.

The incident forced the officers to abandon a checkpoint they had established near the entrance to the Rainbow gathering campsite in North Routt County, Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Ritschard said. Officers had not returned to the checkpoint as of Tuesday afternoon.

The incident happened at about 11 a.m. and involved Forest Service officers who were manning the checkpoint set up to issue citations to anyone attempting to enter the gathering. Citations were being issued because Rainbow Family members had not signed a free Forest Service special-use permit, which is required for gatherings of 75 or more people.

Before the Tuesday morning incident, Forest Service officials were blocking people from entering the gathering and telling them to "turn around," Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Ottaviano said.

Officials said a group of about 100 people -- some of whom already were inside the gathering area -- participated in the incident. Other participants included people waiting outside the checkpoint who were told they could not enter the gathering, Ritschard said.

No arrests were made, and the officers left the scene because they did not want to escalate the situation, Ritschard said. No officers were injured.

"This incident will be investigated, and we're not exactly sure what course of action will be taken," Ritschard said. "The Forest Service is deciding what action to take."

In addition to Forest Service law enforcement officers, a Routt County Sheriff's Office deputy also was at the checkpoint at the time of the incident, Ritschard said.

"The Forest Service is very serious about the safety of our officers and cooperators," Ritschard said.

Also Tuesday, an incomplete special-use permit application was submitted to the Forest Service, Ritschard said. She said the application contained profanity where the applicant was supposed to write the location of the gathering. The application can't be accepted as submitted, Ritschard said.

Between 60 and 70 illegal gathering citations had been issued to Rainbow gathering attendees as of Tuesday morning. As many as 20,000 people are expected to attend the official peace gathering from July 1 to 7. About 500 people already have arrived.

Citations will be issued to people who use the closed trails or ignore other regulations, including:

Public nudity

Camping within 150 feet of any running stream or body of water

Placing kitchen facilities, food preparation areas, gray water pits or slit trenches within 300 feet of any running stream or body of water

Placing kitchen facilities, food preparation areas, gray water pits or slit trenches within 150 feet of any open road

Cutting any standing trees in the area described as: north of Forest Road 505, west of Forest Road 498, south of the private property in Big Red Park and east of Forest Road 500.

Also, about 15 miles of National Forest system motorized trails (numbers 1204 and 1199) near the Rainbow gathering have been closed. Ritschard said the trails were closed to keep the public away from the gathering.

"Most people would enjoy (trails) more at a place that is less congested," Ritschard said.

-- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210

or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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