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October 21, 2014

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4,000 arrive for Utah forest counterculture fest

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Hugh Carey / The Deseret News / AP

In this June 17, 2014, photo, members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light prepare for the upcoming annual gathering outside Heber City, Utah.

UINTA NATIONAL FOREST, Utah — About 4,000 members of a counterculture group known as the Rainbow Family have poured into the woods about 60 miles east of Salt Lake City for an annual festival that culminates in a four-day celebration beginning Tuesday.

Members began arriving about two weeks ago; flooding neighboring Heber City, where residents question how much the gathering will cost their town. They say they're wary of visitors rummaging through their trash or urinating in public. Police there have doubled their force with help from state agencies.

The Rainbow Family has no official creed or website, and doesn't publicly identify any leaders or list of members. It revolves around peace and nonviolence, various unofficial websites say.

A roving courtroom returns to the site on Tuesday to handle misdemeanor citations handed to participants. Last week, Federal Judge Dustin Pead presided in a trailer, KSL-TV reported, processing such misdemeanors as drug possession and having a dog off a leash on national forest land. Another judge is expected to go through about 50 more such cases this week.

Authorities say a New Hampshire woman and a man from Texas at the celebration apparently died in their sleep. Police also say a New Mexico woman at the campsite last week stabbed a participant, seriously injuring him.

But most people at the campsite have been peaceful and have complied with rules restricting where they may set up camp and draw water, officials from the U.S. Forest Service and the Wasatch County Sheriff's Office told The Associated Press last week.

About 10,000 people are expected to arrive by Friday, the height of the celebration.

Last year, the same number of members set up camp in Montana.

The group there racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in law enforcement costs, officials said. The festival prompted U.S. Forest Service officials there to draw up a list of lessons learned for other states.

The last time the Rainbow Family set up in Utah was 2003, when members camped in Summit County. The group has convened every year since 1972.

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