Thousands will ascend to northern Wisconsin in a little more than two weeks for what participants say is a colorful, spiritual and temporary summertime festivity: the national Rainbow Gathering.
The Rainbow Gathering is an annual, mobile event expected to draw thousands from across the country during its July 1-7 run — but can last for weeks after the official last day. Anyone can attend the gathering, and some participants estimate roughly 3,000-5,000 people will attend this year’s gathering in the northwestern portion of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin.
Since the early 1970s, the annual gathering of the Rainbow Family, which is often associated with the counterculture movement, has brought together people who pray for world peace and live off the land. There are no leaders nor hierarchy, but they build a complete community with kitchen, bathroom, medical and stage areas.
“All (of) your needs will be taken care of,” said participant Bucket Harmony.
With the gathering over two weeks away, people have already started setting up at the site, Harmony said.
Participant Karin Zirk said she’s excited to attend this year because the area is “such a beautiful, beautiful part of the country.”
The U.S. Forest Service works closely with the group, said Franklin Pemberton, a regional press officer for the eastern region.
The Forest Service collaborates with state, county and local tribal officials to mitigate possible social, environment and health impacts, Pemberton said. It will also deploy an incident management team, like the ones used to help manage western wildfires, to manage logistics related to the gathering. For example, he said the Forest Service will conduct water-quality testing during the gathering.
“It takes a lot of time and effort to manage it properly,” Pemberton said.
When the gathering is done, Zirk said people will stay until all of the trash is gone. And if the location needs more than trash clean up, she said they will work with the Forest Service to reseed the areas.
“By this time next year, most people won’t be able to tell we were there,” she said.
Northland residents might recall the 1990 national gathering held north of Tofte in the Superior National Forest when about 10,000 people visited.
While the sheer number of vehicles and people bothered some local residents, the Rainbows' impact was mostly benign.
At a regional gathering of the Rainbow Family last year in the Superior National Forest, a man was charged with assault after he allegedly tried to strangle a woman and bite off part of a man's finger.