Director’s Letter August 2020

Forever is a long time

Forever is a long time, even for a 90+ year-old organization like RMBL.  On July 16th RMBL placed a conservation easement on the Gothic Townsite, dedicating the land and the buildings to research and education in perpetuity.

The power of a place is the result of how shared human experiences are woven into a region’s landscape, geology, and biology. Improbably for a remote Colorado valley that annually receives more than 35 feet of snow, making vehicular access impossible for 6+ months, Gothic has become a historic and scientific treasure, full of joy and discovery, and rich in memories.

The power of this place results from how science and community come together.  Starting with the Hayden Survey in 1873, Gothic metamorphosed into a scientific community in 1928 when Dr. John C. Johnson Sr. willed RMBL into existence.  For almost a century, scientists have attracted future generations of researchers by creating memories, building community, and conducting research.  Unique insights into the world emerge because scientists are united across time and subject matter by place.

With Covid-19 creating limitations on shared housing, this is my first summer not living in Gothic since Ronald Reagan was President.  Having spent 33 years memorizing the rocks and roots on the 401 and Deer Creek trails, this summer has been an opportunity to wander.  I now fully appreciate how Crystal Pass separates the Taylor Valley and Brush Creek drainage.   For the first time I’ve seen the South Park Railroad Grade off Carbon Trail on the backside of Ohio Pass. On some of Crested Butte’s busiest weekends I’ve ridden my bike for miles without seeing another soul.

Three decades in, even with the beauty and wildness, I’m still here because of RMBL’s scientific community.  Old friends and new students.  Organized seminars and impromptu talks.  Discovering a new plant species and seeing familiar species in a new light.  It’s the sense that in this scientific community, accumulated knowledge, passion, and dedication come together in a wonderful way.

Knowing that research and education will always be part of the valley has made six years of working on the conservation easement worth it.  We were very fortunate to have Susan Lohr (see accompanying article), former RMBL Director and co-founder of Gunnison Ranchland Legacy, willing to spend untold hours getting the easement language just right.  It took time for state conservation policy to settle down, and to establish a working relationship with Colorado Open Lands.  But we got it done.

The dedication of the Gothic land and buildings to research and education in perpetuity puts a stake in the ground.  RMBL is coming up on a century in Gothic, but we are here forever, committed to how place has the power to transform individuals, and inform how we understand and manage the world.   We ask the Towns of Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte, Gunnison County, the USFS, and residents and visitors to the valley, to join us in further creating something special, with an eye towards forever.


Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL