Director’s Letter September 2019

Protector of Place

It’s a small thing, but it makes me proud.  In early September Volunteer Outdoor Colorado (VOC) visited Gothic and reworked the Judd Falls Trail (see the adjoining article).  One of the most heavily used recreation areas, the previous trail was not “designed”.  It “emerged” as people scrambled through rocks and picked their way, occasionally through research, to the overlook.

RMBL’ers Alice and Steve Jennison took charge.  VOC knows how to mobilize volunteers, Alice is an expert in trail planning, and Steve runs RMBL’s facilities, so the great result is not a surprise. Fifty plus individuals chipped away at boulders, cleared vegetation, and stacked rocks.  Within 2 days we had a beautiful trail, with no erosion problems, clearly leading to the overlook.  The old trail will soon be forgotten.

In the larger context, the Upper East River Valley has been rough around the edges since 1879 when the mining boom rolled through. Forests were clear cut as buildings sprung up and miners scrambled to stay warm. There may have been a civic association, but we are still picking up miner garbage. Roads and trails were quickly hacked on hillsides and through rock.     One hundred and forty years later we now have a Judd Falls trail that makes sense—a trail that people will enjoy, reflects how they flow through the landscape, and that minimizes impacts on the environment.

This project is one of many steps in a journey to create something magical, a place that unites beauty, people, science, and education.  What do some of the other steps look like?  In 2018, working with the local rancher and numerous organizations, RMBL took an active role in ensuring that much of the private ranchland would remain for ranching, wildlife, viewsheds, and would not be converted to development.  While this was the biggest and most critical project to forestall fragmentation of the landscape, it was just one of many land conservation projects that RMBL has helped catalyze.

The journey has involved not just land conservation, but also management.  For decades, and coming up on a century, RMBL has aggressively pushed for signage, bathrooms, and managed camping and parking.  As more people visit, we have pushed for the infrastructure that is needed to allow people to connect with the landscape, while mitigating impacts on wildlife and ecosystems.

Progress has not always been fast.  We lose more arguments than we win.  But, when we do take a step forward, like with the Judd Falls Trail, I try to step back and look at the larger journey.  It makes me proud and inspires me forward.

The idea of the Power of Place is that intensive study of a single location can generate insights that inform how we think about ecosystems around the world.  In a similar fashion, protecting this place is about more than just providing a small number of visitors the opportunity for a nice hike with good views.

Creating beauty and magic inspires scientists to decades of research.  It opens the public and media to listening closely to what our scientists have to offer.  Our conservation and management efforts serve as a model for efforts elsewhere.  Most importantly, our journey shows that we can have a deep and lasting impact if we know where we are going and we are willing to take small steps forward.  Many thanks to all of the volunteers and community members who have been part of the journey over the years!

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL