Director’s Letter May 2020

Adaptation is Important

Field scientists enjoy studying evolution in the field but are less excited to be in the middle of it themselves.  Gothic will be different this summer!  Having operated through the Great Depression and World World II, RMBL curates one of the largest collections of long-term field studies.  The show goes on!

RMBL has received approval for an operating plan from public health that will allow us to house scientists in Gothic.  We are eliminating shared bedrooms, so we will operate at about two-thirds capacity.  To minimize having a scientist re-introduce the virus to Gunnison County and to keep the virus from spreading within Gothic, we will have aggressive containment procedures.  We will require scientists to self-isolate for 7 days upon arrival, conduct daily symptom-monitoring, and use face masks.

And because some scientists will be unable to travel to Gothic we have set up a program to assist them in hiring field assistants already living in Gunnison County.  This arrangement not only helps scientists unable to travel to Gothic but benefits the local economy.   With businesses struggling to stay open and keep workers on payroll, it is great to see scientists putting Gunnison residents to work.  See the adjoining article with an interview of Rachel Dickson if you are interested in what it was like for her to segue from being a winter caretaker, isolated from the larger world, to doing pollination biology for absent scientists.

We are doing something similar with our undergraduate research program.  Most summer programs across the county have shut down so students have few options.  Pending final details with the National Science Foundation, we have support to pair local undergraduates with students from across the country.  We will give students the option of coming to Gothic for some of or the entire summer, as well as completing the program entirely online.  Virtual students will have the opportunity to focus on a big data project, or working as part of a research team including a local student doing field data collection.

Unfortunately, the virus-induced changes will extend to our public programs.  We will not have programs for the public in Gothic, eliminating retail sales at the Visitor Center and our free tours.  One of our more popular destinations, the public outhouse behind the Visitor’s Center, will be closed.  We have had to cancel our events, including the 4th of July one-third Gothic to Crested Butte marathon.

However, as part of the evolution, we will be offering online programming, our “Remotely Curious About Science” series.  It will include weekly field science challenges as well as live-streaming of scientists.  You can get a glimpse of Gothic online programs by observing a talk I recorded for the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum linking mammalogy and Gothic’s mining history at this link.

We will miss connecting with you in person at Gothic summer, but we hope your relationship with RMBL will continue to evolve!



Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL