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RAINBOW CAMPOUT IS DARKER THIS YEAR

The gathering of free spirits draws more freeloaders and more crime.

With rainwater, Rob Korotky rinsed out the tin pail he used to whip up pancake batter for 20 guests from his "kitchen" at an oak-shaded campsite near Salt Springs.

Korotky, 52, a drummaker and musician known to fellow campers as "Kodi," spent $400 on gas to drive from Woodstock, N.Y., for the annual Rainbow Family Gathering, about 80 miles north of Orlando. But as he cleaned up cookware, he wondered if there weren't more freeloaders than free spirits among the estimated 500 people in the woods this year.

"It ain't Rainbow people, per se," Korotky said. "It's all of those drifters and floaters who have never been to a gathering before but who have heard about it as a place to land and party."

Rainbows, as the campers are often called, have gathered in Ocala National Forest each winter since the mid 1980s to commune and pray. But the event - rooted in the 1960s counterculture and loosely committed to spreading love and peace on Earth - has attracted a less-idealistic crowd this year, said veteran participants and U.S. Forest Service officials.

"A lot of people seem like they're here for the wrong reasons," Becki Barnes, 34, of Brandon said as she was preparing to leave the gathering, her 14th. "It's totally changed."

Some campers, especially weekend visitors, are lured not by utopian ideals of peace, love and harmony but by the possibility of scoring sex and drugs, authorities say.

Nudity is often prominent.

Crime has been, too.

Federal Officer Chris Crain counted 14 arrests through the first seven days of the gathering, which unofficially began Valentine's Day and ends on Leap Day, Feb. 29. Crain said federal law officers made only six arrests during last year's event and just one at the 2006 gathering. Marion County deputies have investigated four assaults, three of which sent victims to hospitals.

Dozens of people were ticketed for parking vehicles on closed forest roads or for refusing to leave.

The Rainbow Family claims no leaders, hierarchy or official representatives. Campers at the gathering eschew money, except for passing a "magic hat" to collect funds for water or other communal needs.

Though some campers playfully describe the group as a "disorganization," this year's event has been especially chaotic, said Pat Tolley, a 25-year employee of the Forest Service.

She said Rainbow participants who for years served as "focalizers" - planners who arranged for water deliveries, trash removal and other essential services - decided to camp separately at Buck Lake, about 25 miles south of this year's gathering.

"They just got tired of doing all the work," Tolley said.

The decision by women who used to do the planning led some campers to brand them as "High Holy Hippies."

"It is a little hurtful," said April Hendry, 31, who manages an adult superstore in Gainesville and uses the Rainbow name "Dirty Momma."

Nonetheless, she shouldered the duty of sanitizing and delivering the gathering's "water buffaloes," large tanks of water.

By contrast, the gathering's main campground includes a collection of "drainbows," moochers who float from campsite to campsite, eating free at communal kitchens and offering neither labor nor trade.

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