Rainbow Gathering draws thousands to National Forest
(Ed. note: This is a condensed story of events transpiring in northern Lumpkin County through the Fourth of July holiday period.)
Participants in the Rainbow Family of Living Light made the announcement at 4:20 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12. And a local controversy soon followed.
That’s because Lumpkin County has been officially selected as the site of the group’s annual week-long gathering that could draw as many as 20,000 people to the woods of the Chattahoochee National Forest near the popular Nimblewill Road and Bull Mountain Road area.
In other words, Rainbow Family participant Barry “Ghost” Sacharow wants the public to be aware, “hippies” are on the way to Dahlonega.
“I want the neighbors to know who we are and what we are,” he told The Nugget Wednesday morning. “You’re going to see a lot of long-hair and tie-dyes.”
The gathering is set to take place from July 1-7, with the culmination of the event being a daylong prayer for peace on July 4.
Members have already begun to assemble in the woods to begin preparations for an intricately designed camp that will likely transform the area into a series of interconnected villages complete with outdoor kitchens, a critical care camp, latrine trenches and tapped spring water running through filtered pipes.
Meanwhile, Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacy Jarrard wants the public to know he’ll be ready too. Jarrard held a meeting at the Parks & Rec meeting room last Friday to relay the details.
Adding to the force
Jarrard reached out to officials from agencies that included the Department of Natural Resources, Georgia State Patrol, the National Guard and the Rangers at Camp Frank D. Merrill.
On June 18, he deputized 30 U.S Forestry Service officers and said he plans to add more.
“This will give them arrest powers for the state of Georgia and the county,” he said. “This is a measure to try to maintain a safe event.”
Jarrard and officials are now putting together a plan with the intention of providing law enforcement coverage for what will amount to an estimated 3,000-acre city in the woods.
“Somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 people are expected,” said Jarrard “…They are coming from all over the world to this event.”
Multiple checkpoints were set up throughout the weekend. LCSO incident reports from the past week indicated that there were several marijuana related arrests involving out-of-town visitors making their way to the gathering as well.
Rainbow members have definitely taken notice.
“We’re used to the law enforcement and DNR presence, but it normally is a once a day to twice a day thing at the start of the gathering,” said Karen Owen, who watched agents search a car parked near her camp site on Sunday. “But what we have seen so far seems excessive.”
Jarrard said he doesn’t want to stereotype the group, but he’s going to be on high alert as he’s been notified of incidents of violence at previous gatherings.
“I don’t want to paint a picture to scare the public,” he said. “If you look at their website, they’re about peace. And I hope what they bring is peace.”
What’s the Rainbow Family? It depends on who you ask.
Sacharow said the gathering began in 1972 as a means for returning Vietnam veterans to be able to celebrate the Fourth of July without the remembrances of war, such as explosions and fireworks.
“They were spit on and called baby killers,” Sacharow said. “So, they mixed with the hippies of the era and the anti-war protesters to form what we now know as the counter culture movement in America. A group of this counterculture mix, made up of hippies and veterans, decided that they wanted to celebrate July Fourth without the fireworks and explosions that reminded them of their time in combat. They decided to gather together in national forests to celebrate the holiday by praying for world peace.”
Since then, the national Rainbow Family Gathering has been an annual event which has grown to include regional gatherings, international gatherings and world gatherings throughout its 46-year history.
Leaving a trace
One major concern among worried residents has been the potential impact on the land. Sacharow said they have that covered. After most of the people have left the area, a reported group of about 50-60 Rainbow Family Gathering participants plan to stay to assist in a thorough cleanup process.
“We will stay until around the end of July,” Sacharow said.
“We will take about three weeks to make sure that the area is cleaner than it was before we arrived. We will meticulously clean all the trash, will reseed the meadow and make sure that we leave no trace that we were here.”
Forest Service Public Affairs officer Mike Stearly said that’s pretty much what happened in Malheur National Forest (Oregon) last year, noting Rainbow participants worked with officers to remove all the litter.
However, he added there are some traces that thousands of people will leave in the forest no matter how careful they might be. That includes trampled vegetation, erosion and a series of new trails left in the park.
A year later the impact of that event is still visible, Stearly said.
“There are still signs that there was a large gathering there,” he said. “But Mother Nature has a way of healing herself, so that process is taking place. We did go in afterward and replant native grasses.”
Rainbow Gathering update
The Rainbow Family of Living Light (Rainbow Family) has chosen to hold its 2018 national gathering on the Blue Ridge Ranger District at Bull Mountain off Forest Service Road (FSR) 28-1 and FSR 77 near the community of Nimblewill. These gatherings can attract up to 12,000 people. The highest concentration of participants at the gathering will occur July 1-4.
﹣ To limit potential impacts from the gathering, FSR 77 is closed until further notice.
﹣ To access Long Creek Falls, take FSR 58 to Three Forks Trailhead.
﹣ To access Mountain Trailhead, take one of two routes: Start at Amicalola Falls State Park and take the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) Approach Trail, or start at Doublehead Gap Road and continue onto FSR 42.
Source: U.S. Forest Service, June 26