MOUNT TABOR >> People are crossing the country to attend this year's Rainbow Family of Living Light and connect with others they feel share their goal of peace, love and illumination.
But hosting up to 10,000 people in primitive campsites on a Vermont mountainside is straining the resources of the U.S. Forest Service and some locals see the event as an intrusive gathering of aging hippies.
The decades-old, get-together of "Rainbows," as they call themselves, is held each year on national forestland.
About 2,000 Rainbows had arrived by early this week for the gathering near Mount Tabor in the Green Mountain National Forest. Their numbers are expected to peak July 4, when the group plans to hold a prayer ceremony for peace.
Rainbow Jai Love, of Eugene, Oregon, was playing a ukulele Tuesday and singing in the door of a bus converted into a camper. The 28-year-old man said many people who thought they were lost, find friendship and family at the gatherings.
"I just keep on chasing the family and seeing people that are traveling to raise awareness of peace, love and life," he said. "It's not about the government. It's about American culture. And if you thought that was lost, you can still find it here."
The Rainbow tradition goes back to the very anti-traditional 1960s. The first national Rainbow gathering was held in 1972, partly an outgrowth of community many young people felt at the 1969 Woodstock music festival. The last gathering in Vermont was in 1991.
"Well, basically, it hasn't changed all that much," said Feather Sherman, of western Montana. The 68-year-old Sherman is among those who fueled its start. She has attended every gathering since its beginning.
Over the years, the Rainbows and the U.S. Forest Service have come to an uneasy truce. Federal agents have patrolled the periphery of the gathering, usually giving out scores of warnings or tickets for traffic and other minor violations. On Tuesday night, an assault sent one Rainbow to a regional hospital with minor injuries.
The Forest Service this year has brought in a special incident command team, modeled after those used to manage wildfires, and federal officers are regularly patrolling the road leading to the Rainbow campsite.
Among the locals, some have bemoaned the invasion of painted buses and visitors in torn clothes, body paint and dreadlocks. And there've been complaints of Rainbows going through garbage bins and keeping residents out of the stores.
But overall, relations — and business — has been good.
"We are just trying to be prepared," said Cindy Kapusta, who owns the Mount Tabor Country Store near the road to the Rainbow campsite.
She said her employees have caught a number of Rainbows shoplifting, and there were complaints of people relieving themselves behind the store. But that's no longer an issue, she said, since the Rainbows set up portable toilets at the end of the road.