Hippies got violent, Forest Service says
DENVER ” U.S. Forest Service officers were slugged, elbowed and pelted with a rock when they tried to arrest some unruly campers at a gathering of the Rainbow Family near Steamboat Springs, officials said today.
None of the injuries was serious, Forest Service spokeswoman Kimberly Vogel said.
The confrontation occurred Monday night but was not reported until today. It was one of at least three clashes between officers and campers to occur as thousands of the Rainbow Family gather for a weeklong outing, which officially begins Saturday.
About 5,000 members of the free-spirited, loosely affiliated band of hippies have arrived at the campsite in the Routt National Forest about 30 miles north of Steamboat Springs in defiance of the Forest Service, which has refused to grant the group a permit, citing the fire danger.
Up to 20,000 are expected. Routt County Sheriff John Warner said his department is prepared for anything, but he wouldn’t discuss how many officers are available. He said the sheriff’s department is working with the Forest Service, Steamboat Springs police, the Colorado State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies.
About 250 campers have been cited for camping without a permit, and on Thursday forestry officials banned open fires, except in authorized fire pits.
In the Monday incident, about 200 campers surrounded 15 officers and became verbally abusive, Vogel said.
As the officers tried to arrest some of the campers, the crowd surged forward, striking at least three officers and pulling the suspects free, she said.
Campers piled on top of one suspect, blocking officers from making an arrest. One male officer was injured when someone dived at his knees, a second suffered bruises when a rock was thrown at his leg and a female officer was elbowed in the knee and face, she said.
Officers arrested one suspect, drew their batons and used pepper spray as they backed away, Vogel said.
Vogel said forestry officials met Tuesday with a group calling themselves elders of the Rainbow Family.
“The way they explained it is there are a lot of the younger generation that come from the inner-city environment. As soon as they see law enforcement, they sort of get into a gang mentality,” she said.
In the other two incidents, campers surrounded and intimidated Forest Service officers last week, once at a roadside checkpoint and once inside the camp, Vogel said.
Vogel said the Forest Service is not arresting campers or trying to break up the gathering, but officials are concerned about wildfires, sanitation and access.
Campers are spread out in eight square miles of meadow and forest where up to 60 percent of the trees have been killed by a beetle infestation and are vulnerable to fire, officials said. Forestry officials worry that if a big fire erupts, the narrow dirt access road would become clogged and campers would be trapped.
Warner said no residents have reported trouble with the campers.
“They’re being tolerated at this point,” he said. “Most of them are coming right through (towns) and heading up to camp.”
He said the campers and the usual influx of July Fourth visitors could triple the county’s usual population of about 20,000.
The Forest Service reported five arrests, two for assault on law enforcement officers and three for failing to appear on citations issued in West Virginia at last year’s Rainbow Family national gathering.
Routt County deputies had made about five drug or alcohol-related arrests, Warner said.
Campers cited by the Forest Service for permit violations have been appearing before a federal magistrate in a makeshift court in a fire station near the camp. The typical fine for violating the Forest Service’s camping ban has been $135 including court costs, according to Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.
A judge on Thursday rejected an appeal from a Rainbow Family member to move the hearings from a makeshift courthouse to a larger facility, he said.
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