Some pretty far-out-looking vans and buses have been stopping in Chetek on their journey north, presumably for the Rainbow Family Gathering happening in northern Wisconsin this week.
Borne from the counterculture of the 1960s, Rainbow Gatherings have been held annually in the U.S. since the early 1970s. They meet the first week in July in a national forest, and this year, it is taking place in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Iron River and Delta in Bayfield County.
There are no leaders, spokesperson or organization for the “Rainbows,” as the attendees call themselves, but they say they gather to pray, meditate and observe silence with a focus on world peace, harmony, freedom and respect. While a gathering of “hippies,” they welcome anyone and everyone who comes peacefully to the gatherings. It is free for anyone to attend.
An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 are expected to show up and this has gotten some local residents concerned, given the short notice. The Rainbows say they leave the land as they came and remove all their trash. As of Wednesday, June 26, around 1,000 had arrived early to set up, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
The Forest Service manages the annual event in close coordination with tribal, state and local partners to protect the health and safety of everyone involved, and to lessen environmental impacts to the site by providing information and enforcing laws.
The Forest Service usually requires a special-use permit for groups of 75 people or more, but Rainbows say there are no leaders or organization to which to sign or pay for a permit and no funds, since no entry fees are charged. Instead the group and Forest Service develops a resource protection plan in lieu of a special-use permit.
“We understand there may be impacts to our community, our neighbors and other forest visitors,” said Jamie Davidson, deputy forest supervisor for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. “We are working hard to minimize effects to our local communities and the environment. All visitors to the national forest are expected to obey federal, state and local laws and regulations, and we take the enforcement of these laws very seriously.”
Those looking to head to the Rainbow Gathering should check on notices and road closures posted on the Forest Service website at https://go.usa.gov/xmJJ5.