SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Authorities are preparing for the nudity and free-spiritedness they expect to take over a corner of national forest about 40 miles east of Salt Lake City.
The first revelers are setting up camp this week at the annual Rainbow Family gathering in northern Utah, and attendance is expected to total about 10,000. They have begun building kitchens and pitching tents in advance of their July 4 celebration.
The group has already crashed a nearby wedding reception, raiding platters and forgoing any effort to blend in, members of the party reported to the Wasatch County police.
And it’s logged one death so far: On Sunday, a 39-year-old New Hampshire woman died in her sleep on the site, said Wasatch County Sheriff’s deputy Jared Rigby. The celebration only counts about 200 people right now, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kathy Jo Pollock.
For the most part, participants have cooperated with officials, asking how they can limit their toll on the land, said Dave Whittekiend of the Forest Service.
“People have approached and asked, ‘How can we be lighter on the ground; how can we minimize those impacts?’” he said.
A pair of Mormon girls’ camps along the route to the gathering site has moved elsewhere in what the church called a “precautionary measure.”
It’s the first year the annual event has come to Utah since 2003, when it set up on the northern side of the same mountain range, in Summit County. It has convened every year since 1972.
Last year, the group chose Montana’s Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, where law enforcement costs related to the gathering totaled $575,000, according to the Forest Service. Officers made hundreds of citations but only arrested two people of about 10,000 that showed up.
Officials there compiled a list of lessons learned for other officials down the road, advising them to make clear where participants may camp, set up fires and retrieve water, Whittekiend said.
The Rainbow Family has no leaders and no official website or member list. Its creed revolves around nonviolence, inclusiveness and praying for peace, according to a number of websites affiliated with the group.
The gatherings take the name “rainbow” because they aim to incorporate a spectrum of people and cultures, says one website.