HWY 50 Bridge Closure Update


For those of you starting to think about traveling from the West to RMBL and that would normally travel on Highway 50, here are a few notes.

  1. They are working on getting Kebler Pass open early. However, they will be careful about how soon they open it because if they open it too soon, run off will destroy the road. They usually try and have Kebler open by Memorial Day, which is May 27th. My best guess is that it may be open a week or so ahead of that timeframe, so around May 20th.
  2. There are early morning and evening reroutes taking CR 26. The reroutes are for local traffic, but they are loose in terms of how they apply the term local. It adds about 40 minutes to what the route would normally take—less convenient that I-70 if you are coming from the west coast and not necessarily that much faster. They are working to upgrade this reroute and I expect that it may eventually become open to drive at any time, or the hours will be expanded considerably.
  3. If you are coming from the West Coast and are traveling through Grand Junction, depending upon how fast you drive, it adds 1.5-2 hours to take I-70 and then swing down through Leadville, saving another 20-30 minutes once Cottonwood gets open.
  4. There is no timeframe for opening the bridge. I would guess that the bridge will not be fully functional until after summer. There has been some talk of a pontoon bridge to serve as a temporary replacement, but I think that is unlikely.

With few scientists scheduled to arrive before Memorial Day, I don’t think the bridge will create serious problems for scientists traveling to RMBL from the West Coast. However, RMBL’ers could be impacted by secondary effects from the bridge closure. Examples of such secondary effects include:

  1. While the CR 26 reroute and Kelber will become more available for car traffic, neither route is appropriate for commercial/trucks. If you have equipment or supplies that are routed through Montrose, you might want to reconsider where you are getting supplies from. Look to get your supplies from the east and don’t count on suppliers from Montrose, unless an alternate bridge is opened up. If you don’t know where your stuff is coming from, you are probably in good shape. Supply chains will do their own adaptation. So this warning is really just for people that typically buy stuff directly from Montrose/Delta suppliers. There may be weird and inexpicable supply chain issues (more than normal)—e.g., dairy and ice cream have been in short supply in recent weeks.
  2. With increased traffic on Kebler, expect that route to take longer than what you normally plan on, for the entire summer.
  3. With the focus on getting Kebler open early, a Gothic opening could be delayed. We don’t know that a Gothic opening would be delayed, but between the work on the CR 26 reroute and Kebler Pass, the Gothic road is not just a priority. We haven’t seen anything suggested a need for major work on the Gothic road, which really could be delayed. But we will keep people posted.
  4. I would recommend minimizing flying in/out of the Montrose airport. For those that have the Gunnison Airport because of reliability, flights in and out of Gunnison have gotten much more reliable with fewer failed landings because of improved radar. There just haven’t been that many canceled flights in the last year. For those of you that have avoided Gunnison because of costs, bus service (Bustang ) is running daily from CB to Denver, which plans to increase to twice daily trips (though whether that will happen this summer is not clear).

In general, working in Gothic or has never been particularly convenient. Plan on a little more of the same this summer!

You can track what CDOT is saying about the bridge at: US 50 Blue Mesa Bridge Update — Colorado Department of Transportation (codot.gov)

Gunnison County’s link is at: Hwy 50 Bridge Closure | Gunnison County, CO – Official Website

They provide very similar information, but sometimes they have more local info.

And for super local info—to find out the status of Gothic opening in general, check out this link: Gothic Opening Updates – Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (rmbl.org)

Feel free to reach out to me directly with questions.



Ian Billick

6/16/22 COVID-19 Communication

RMBL Community-

Thanks so much for the great feedback we received from the community! Lots of thoughtful emails and conversations combined with patience and understanding. I will cut straight to the chase with what we plan to do in terms of masks and reporting, effective immediately,  followed by a bit more information.

Masking Requirements

  1. We will require masks in the serving area of the dining hall for the rest of the summer. This is a confined area with poor ventilation and some people cannot avoid going through there. I do ask that people be patient with staff—the requirement applies to them but at times things get busy and they are moving a lot of hot things fast.
  2. Until further notice will require masks in all lab spaces and classrooms . PI’s that are not sharing labs may ask for exceptions of me (Ian Billick) if there are extenuating circumstances.
  3. Until further notice we will require masks at seminars in the dining hall, though we will not require use of masks during meals or outside structured events. We will work to keep the building ventilated.
  4. Masks will not be required in Ruby Lounge nor other voluntary social locations.
  5. Staff will mirror visitors to their offices; if a visitor is using a mask, staff will follow suit. But be graceful/patient if a staff person forgets.
  6. Masks will not be required in the Visitor’s Center or the Coffee Lab.
  7. We will continue to provide hybrid options for structured programs, but have no intent to move programs online.
  8. We will not require masks outside, though we ask that people be sensitive to others, either maintaining their distance or using masks if they are interacting with someone wearing a mask.
  9. We strongly encourage use of K95 or N95 masks.


We have had requests for reporting of incidents. We do not receive information from public health about incidents onsite, nor are people required to report to us cases. Furthermore, when we do receive private medical information RMBL has ethical (and legal) constraints around publicly sharing private health care information. Simply removing names is not necessarily sufficient to anonymize data. However, we have plan on the following to provide the general community an understanding of trends in the townsite. We ask that onside residents let the office (Katie, Brett, and Julie) know if they have tested positive and on what day they tested positive. Each Tuesday and Friday by 5 pm we will post at this link the number of cases reported for the prior 7 days. If we see any disturbing trends emerging between Tuesday and Friday, we will send notice out to the community, rather than wait (though our ability to detect and report trends will always be hampered on the weekends). We are working through protocols, and associated legal and ethical considerations, around notifying individuals in communal settings that they are sharing a cabin with someone who has tested positive. The easiest thing is if roommates communicate among themselves or give us permission to communicate for them.

We will provide this information with the following caveats. Even public health institutions with lots of resources and clear lines of reporting are struggling to obtain and interpret information. Consequently, while we appreciate that scientists are data hogs, we will not be providing additional information, though we will provide links to information about Colorado and the county. Furthermore, the absence of reported cases does not mean the absence of cases. With vaccinations and boosters there are numerous false positives as well as asymptomatic individuals who may be unaware they were even expose. Additionally, we do not receive information from public health, to whom PCR results are reported, nor are individuals required to report home tests or PCR tests to us.

For context, in advance of the reporting that will start tomorrow, we had one resident report a positive test last week, and two this week.


RMBL may simply not be the right place for everybody during in an outbreak. We don’t have the resources to solve everybody’s needs in an outbreak, particularly those who understandably require more isolation. As we indicated in May, we have very few options for moving people out of communal living spaces should an infection emerge, though we still have some available housing in Gunnison. More locally, people can check out hotels, VRBO’s, or air BnB’s. We will not penalize people financially for moving out of a shared living space because they or a housemate test positive.

Final Notes

You can ignore this section and you won’t miss anything tangible, but I thought I would pass on a few observations from the feedback and conversations I’ve had in the last 24 hrs.

  1. We are doing our best to allow people to manage their own risk profiles, also recognizing that individual risk is greatly affected by overall infection rates and community transmission.
  2. There are people in our community who are immuno-compromised or at high risk of severe negative outcomes if infected. While we can’t keep everybody completely safe, it is important that as a community that we do what we can.
  3. It is heartbreaking talking to younger people about what they have lost due to the pandemic. Decision-makers are older and as such, have a greater understanding of the needs and risks of older people. This pandemic has hit all age groups but hit them in very different ways. Because the risk and consequence of infection is very different across age groups, people in different situations have very different cost/benefit profiles. I have had more younger people articulate the challenges and risks to older people than vice versa. I strongly encourage the senior science community to be attuned to the challenges and losses of our younger community members.
  4. Facial expressions are important to many, though not all, for navigating social networks, especially younger individuals in novel networks with complicated power asymmetries.
  5. In general, patience, empathy, and grace will be what holds RMBL together through the third summer of the pandemic. We will support however you decide to manage your risk level, but we do ask you to accept that if you decide to live and/or work at RMBL, it comes with some risks and the give and take inevitable in any community setting.

Thanks again for how thoughtful everybody has been! We will keep evaluating the situation and doing our best to keep you informed.

Ian Billick

Executive Director

6/15/22 COVID-19 Communication

Dear RMBL Community,

Like most other places in the US, RMBL has been experiencing regular reports of covid-19. Because of the need to maintain privacy we will not be reporting incident rates. However, once we go a full week without any new reported cases, we will let you know. We have previously communicated that because we are at capacity we have limited opportunities to isolate people. That will continue to be true.

We are considering at least temporarily moving back to masking requirements for the serving area in the dining hall, large gatherings in the dining hall (e.g., seminars), at least temporarily, and for shared labs.  If you have feedback on what RMBL should do, please email me your thoughts by Thursday, June 17, 2 pm Mountain Time.  If you can catch me I am happy to talk in person but may be elusive.

To help frame the discussion, here are the things we are thinking about:

  1. We are presumably moving into the endemic stage of the disease.
  2. Hospitalization and mortality rates appear to be much lower than in previous outbreaks.
  3. Long covid is still not well understood and could be generating long-standing negative health outcomes among a large part of the population.
  4. Even with high vaccination rates and improved medical outcomes associated with infection, there are individuals that remain highly susceptible to bad short-term outcomes.
  5. There are currently large differences in behavioral norms around masking within the United States.
  6. Even in relatively homogeneous areas, behavioral norms around managing risks and mask wearing have not emerged.
  7. The relationship between short-term strategies and long-term health outcomes appears complicated.
  8. At RMBL and more broadly in society we have seen a noticeable increase in mental health issues, which seems to be exacerbated by social isolation, loss of family and friends including to covid, and general disruption.
  9. Online options for seminars and talks in the dining hall, allowing people to control their level of risk.
  10. Some people are unable to control their risk because they must use the serving area; RMBL does not have the capacity for everybody to cook their own meals.

We are considering the following decision points, though feel free to suggest other issues or strategies for managing risk.

  1. Requiring masks at seminars and large meetings in the dining hall, or asking that people who are concerned participate online.
  2. Requiring masks in the serving area of the dining hall, or requiring use of masks in the serving area for the first 15 minutes of meal serving, or not requiring masks at all.
  3. Requiring masks in shared labs, or requiring masks in shared labs upon request, or not requiring masks at all.

If you do think we should impose additional masking restrictions, thoughts on how long those should remain in place would be appreciated (e.g., all summer, until cases drop nationally/CO/CB/Gothic).

Thanks for your feedback!


Ian Billick

Executive Director

Craig Welch Bio

Craig Welch is an environment writer at National Geographic. Prior to joining National Geographic, he was the environmental reporter for The Seattle Times, where he worked for more than 14 years. A journalist for two decades, his work has appeared in Smithsonian magazine, the Washington Post, and Newsweek. He spent a year as a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, and the Society of Environmental Journalists has twice named him Outstanding Beat Reporter of the Year. In 2010, HarperCollins published his book, “Shell Games: A True Story of Cops, Con Men, and the Smuggling of America’s Strangest Wildlife,” a nonfiction detective story about wildlife thieves. [more at https://pulitzercenter.org/people/craig-welch]. He wrote the cover story on forests in the May issue of National Geographic this year.

Grant Writing Workshop August 6th – 13th, 2022

The grant writing workshop is full. Please register below to be put on the waitlist.


From Aug. 6- Aug. 13th, 2022, join Dr. Leslie Rissler at the Rocky Mtn Bio Lab for a six-day hands-on grant writing workshop for scientists who want to learn strategies, styles, and structures to improve their grant proposals. The experience is geared toward early-career proposal writers including faculty, postdocs, and senior graduate students, and will include direct discussions and writing sessions based on participants’ own proposal ideas. The 6-day course will cost $800 and include all expenses of being at RMBL (room, board, and station fees). Enrollment will be capped at 15.

Leslie has experience working with students across various fields, including biology, physics, and conservation. Participants should plan on arriving with research ideas so they can hit the ground running. The course will involve finding appropriate solicitations associated with those research ideas, writing a proposal that matches ideas to those solicitations, and having draft proposals reviewed in a panel format by colleagues.

Winner of the 2020 Stephen Jay Gould Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Leslie is known for her work on amphibian and reptile biogeography, evolutionary ecology, systematics, and conservation as well as the public communication of evolution. Former Professor and Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the University of Alabama, she is currently a program director in the NSF Biology Directorate. For questions about course content, you can reach Leslie at Leslie.Rissler@gmail.com. RMBL’s Director of Operations, Brett Biebuyck, can help with questions about logistics at brett@rmbl.org.

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