MOUNT TABOR — At about noon on Monday, the entrance to Forest Road 10 displayed a white van with a "Hippie on board" dust message and Colorado license plates that sat across from an RV in the baseball field right before the railroad tracks.
Henry the Fiddler snapped his flip phone shut to meet with David Crockett Williams, RV operator. Williams logged off this laptop and sat next to a large printer. His long beard was wrapped into a bun beneath his chin. His mission, his reason to attend the Rainbow Family Gathering, is to lead a peace walk from Mount Tabor to Washington, D.C. on July 8.
There are 200 core volunteers within the Rainbow Family of Living Light, Henry said, but the organization is unofficial and welcomes all races, people, tribes, communes, nations and national leaders, religions and politicians, according to its flyer. This is the 45th gathering and upwards of 20,000 people are expected to commute to the Green Mountain National Forest. Traffic will peak toward the end of June and beginning of July.
Last year, the family traveled to Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming. On July 3, one of the oldest
Rainbow members, Medicine Storey from New Hampshire, will be present and the history of the gatherings will be told. It is also the 25th anniversary of the New York Purple Gang, which started in Vermont at the first national gathering in the state in 1991.
Amongst the gathering lay kitchens where family members cook and feed each other without assigned jobs.
Up Forest Road 31 where the Appalachian Trail crosses, is the main entrance to the gathering called Main Meadow. Just beyond that is kid village where children will march into Main Meadow on July 4 as part of the gathering's main event. While other Americans are celebrating independence, the Rainbow Family will remain silent in the camp until noon and pray for world peace followed by the kid parade. There will also be a talent show night at camp Granola Funk along with various other activities.
Henry became part of the Rainbow Family after hitchhiking around the country living an alternative lifestyle in the late 1960s. He attended a few regional gatherings but then visited a national one in 1976 in Montana and has since participated in about 30.
He travels as a musical sawyer but prepares maps when the gathering time gets close. He's part of the seed camp that arrived early to plant kitchens and camps in the forest.
The U.S. Forestry Service and neighboring law enforcement have banded to prepare for the gathering and patrol the grounds to ensure ultimate safety. Chief Mike Hall of the Manchester Police said it's too early to tell what to be cautious about, but he believes the group has good intentions.
"We haven't had any issues as of yet, but typically there are some concerns that some of the folks that aren't affiliated with the Rainbow group tend to tag along with the group as they go to locations and sometimes create issues within the community such as panhandling," Hall said. "The group itself is pretty good about keeping things good and civilized and we're hoping that's the case but we're anticipating we'll have some issues and we'll have additional manpower and reserves ready as best as we can to deal with that."
Information has been distributed to agencies in the town of Manchester as well as community members in anticipation of the influx of traffic.
On June 22, Ethan Ready, Green Mountain National Forest public affairs officer, released an update on the gathering that stated a total of 16 warning notices and eight violations were issued for traffic and drug related offences, so far. Thirteen other incidents received law enforcement response. The U.S. Forest Service is working with the Vermont State Police and county law enforcement to ensure safety for the surrounding public and gatherers.