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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- With a carefully worded permit in hand, the Rainbow Family is looking forward to their first legal gathering in six years.
"We're going to do our very, very best to protect the resources of the area and work with state, county and local officials for health and safety," said Garrick Beck, a longtime gathering participant.
"We have moved the gathering into the legal arena and I think everybody should be congratulated for this," he said.
The loosely organized counterculture group's annual Fourth of July gathering will be in the Little West Fork Black Fork area, about 70 miles east of Salt Lake City on the north slope of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest and slightly northwest of Lyman Lake, where the group's council has been meeting, said forest spokeswoman Kathy Jo Pollock.
She said the area is large enough to accommodate the 8,000 to 20,000 expected to attend. The gathering is July 1-7 but between 300 and 500 people already have arrived, she said.
Forest Service negotiations with the group had been hung up over getting someone to take responsibility by signing the permit. It is a point of pride with the group that is has no leader. Pollock said the issue was resolved by one person agreeing to sign an individual -- not a group -- permit. She said an agreement also has been reached on detailed maintenance and use plans, including where cooking will be done and placing camps away from water sources.
Beck, who has been attending the gatherings since the group first began meeting on public lands in 1972, signed the noncommercial special use permit under the description of "individuals" gathering on a national forest.
"It's everything I can do to be the agent of myself let alone 20,000 freethinking Americans," Beck said.
He's happy to have the gathering removed from the arena of civil disobedience and into its intended role as a free peaceable assembly.
The center piece of the event is the group's Fourth of July "silent circle for peace," Beck said.
"Everybody comes down to this central meadow and each person does their own meditation, prayer or contemplation for peace on Earth," he said.
"After that we'll do the usual good job of cleaning up. For 32 years we've cleaned up, rehabilitated and reseeded," after the gatherings, he said.
The group has cooperated with the Forest Service and Summit County officials, Pollock said. She anticipates that cooperation will continue and they will do a good job of cleaning up.
About 8,000 group members met last year in the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan.
The group last met in Utah in 1974 near Bryce Canyon National Park in the Dixie National Forest.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)