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500 members of Rainbow Family gather near Riggins, with more expected over the weekend

The annual gathering is happening in the Nez Perce - Clearwater National Forest over the July 4 weekend, despite COVID-19 restrictions.

IDAHO COUNTY, Idaho — About 500 members of a popular counter-culture movement are gathered in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest on Friday, July 3, with more expected to arrive over the weekend. 

The Rainbow Family of Living Light is holding its annual event in an area roughly 11 miles outside of Riggins, Idaho, despite COVID-19 restrictions. Right now, Idaho allows gatherings of only 250 or fewer people as part of Stage 4 in the reopening process. 

The site is located within within the Nez Perce's Tribe's homeland and is subject to treaty-reserved rights, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service. 

“The Forest Service has an obligation to the Nez Perce Tribe to uphold and manage these lands. We consult regularly with their representatives to ensure this obligation is being fulfilled," said Shannon Wheeler, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe.

"We have collaborated on several projects to help preserve the land and resources. We expect this situation to be no different," Wheeler added. 

RELATED: Concerns surround Rainbow Family gathering outside of Riggins, Idaho

Due to the environment impacts of past Rainbow Family gatherings, coupled with threats posed by COVID-19, the tribe requested that this year's gathering be canceled. According to the Forest Service, the majority of Rainbow Family members agreed to honor the request while others remain committed to gathering. 

The peaceful counter-culture gathering started in 1972, and occurs in a different national forest each year.

Previous year's gatherings have seen up to 20,000 expected visitors, like at the 2017 gathering in Oregon's Malheur National Forest. The 2017 gathering saw one man die after collapsing.

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The Forest Service is asking attendees to maintain six feet of social distancing when possible, as well as following other hygiene practice such as frequent hand washing and wearing face masks of coverings to prevent the spread of coronavirus.