The U.S. Forest Service and Bayfield County sheriff’s office also are gearing up to manage thousands of people coming to the weeklong Rainbow Family Gathering Fourth of July celebration.
The Forest Service’s National Incident Management Team is taking point to patrol the influx of visitors to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Canthook Lake, said Hilary Markin, public affairs officer.
This is the first time the Rainbows have brought their national event to Wisconsin, Markin said, and in the past gatherings in the Midwest have brought as many as 10,000 people together on public land.
The anticipated arrival of so many travelers has spurred concern among local residents over safety issues and the impact on the land — concerns they expect officials to address.
The Forest Service and sheriff’s office will work in tandem to patrol the Rainbow area, ensuring all federal, state and local laws are enforced.
Sheriff Paul Susienka said he has increased patrols in Delta, Iron River and other areas near the gathering but is not drawing resources from other areas of the county — they will be patrolled as usual so safety isn’t compromised.
Instead, sheriff’s deputies are putting in overtime, which will be covered by the Forest Service.
A couple of deputies had made requests — which were approved — for time off around the Fourth of July a long time ago and their vacations will be honored, Susienka said. However, deputies who had not yet submitted vacation requests for the time the Rainbows will gather have been asked to remain on the active duty roster.
Patrol duty isn’t falling solely on the shoulders of the sheriff’s office. The Forest Service has brought in its National Incident Management Team to take responsibility for safety and law enforcement on forest land.
Forest Service vehicles frequently are sighted driving back and forth between the National Forest and Ashland where team members have set up their own base camp at Cobblestone Inn & Suites.
The Forest Service can act on behalf of the sheriff’s office, Susienka said. But it primarily it focuses on enforcing federal regulations.
The Forest Service can issue federal citations, and anyone who receives one must address it in federal court, Markin said. A federal judge will temporarily work out of the Bayfield County Courthouse so that Rainbows who receive a federal citation don’t have to drive to Madison.
However, law enforcement is only one part of ensuring the Rainbow Family Gathering runs smoothly for Rainbows and local residents. Protecting the land is high on the Forest Service’s to-do list as well.
Last weekend, the Forest Service estimated 1,000 Rainbows already were at the site, possibly because it was the summer solstice, although their numbers dropped to about 850 by Monday. With so many already here and thousands more expected, many people worry about their impact upon the land.
Although the Forest Service requires permits when 75 or more people hold an event on public land, the Rainbow group refuses to obtain one, saying it has no leaders and therefore no one can sign on its behalf.
The Forest Service gets a lot of “pushback” from the public over the Rainbows’ lack of a permit, Markin said. The Forest Service writes up a resource protection plan to protect the land, and health and safety.
As the event unfolds, members of the Forest Service meet regularly with Rainbows to discuss questions or concerns surrounding the resource protection plan. Afterward, when cleanup begins, the Washburn Ranger Station will work with the Rainbows to restore the land to pre-gathering conditions.
Until then, officers will keep a pulse on the community’s safety.
So far, Susienka said, he has not seen an uptick in the number of criminal complaints in the county, and Markin said the Forest Service has not experienced any problems worth mentioning.
And as more Rainbows flow into the area for their Fourth of July celebration of peace, they hope the peaceful co-existence among all parties continue.