A world-renowned climate research site near Crested Butte is now protected by a conservation easement

Jason Blevins, Colorado Sun
Nestled beneath the imposing facade of Gothic Peak, the historic silver mining town of Gothic is located in the West Elk mountains near Crested Butte. Established in 1879, Gothic once had a booming population and over 200 buildings. Today, it is home to just a few full-time residents and is known for being the location of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic has spent almost a century working to protect pristine swaths of wild lands. The research site, which draws scientists from across the globe every summer and ranks among the world’s largest, oldest and most productive field stations, now is permanently protecting its entire 270-acre research site.

As part of a deal announced Thursday, the lab above Crested Butte — known locally as “Rumble” — is protected under a conservation easement with Colorado Open Lands, ensuring that the hundreds of scientists and students who convene at the remote research station can continue their ecological research free from the ever-creeping threat of development. 

“We don’t have to worry about private development undermining the ecological integrity of the landscape, and all our partners can know this property will be managed for research and education,” said Rocky Mountain Biological Lab Executive Director Ian Billick. “And it shows the lab is serious about conservation.”

Formed in 1928 in the abandoned mining town of Gothic, the lab’s natural landscape in the headwaters of the Elk Range’s East River has hosted a rotating array of scientists who have published more than 1,900 studies. Landmark research into wildlife, insects, habitats, soil, water ecology and the roaming impacts of climate change has flowered in the undisturbed high-altitude terrain surrounding the laboratory.  

And the lab has played a critical role in conservation in Colorado, working with advocacy groups to manage protected land. The lab manages the Mexican Cut Preserve atop the Elks’ Galena Mountain, which was the first property protected by The Nature Conservancy in Colorado in 1966. The lab has helped many conservation groups with the management of protected landscapes, including, most recently, the protection of 4,377 acres of working ranch land — the venerable Trampe Ranch — in the Gunnison River and Upper East River valleys. That easement — funded with a $10 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, the group’s largest single transaction — protects acreage that borders Rocky Mountain Biological Lab. 

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