If you go

What: Informational meeting on Rocky Mountain EcoDharma Retreat Center

When: From 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 26

Where: Reynolds Branch of Boulder Public Library, 3595 Table Mesa Drive

More info: RMERC.org

In a time of growing concern over profound issues such as climate change and even nuclear sabre rattling, and with political turmoil across the nation stirring memories of the 1960s, there is promise in Boulder County of a unique refuge for activists and others.

Providing investors step forward to help seal the deal, the planned retreat — billed as the Rocky Mountain EcoDharma Retreat Center — will make its home on an historic property west of Jamestown that is the legacy of an early pioneer in educating the public about Rocky Mountain ecology.

The center is planned for a 180-acre parcel on Overland Road previously owned by Hazel Schmoll, who from 1919 to 1935 was Colorado’s state botanist.

Schmoll typically advertised the Range View Ranch in the Christian Science Monitor, only permitting guests there who did not drink or smoke, offering visitors a high-country buffet of activities including mountaineering, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and more.

Now, partners Johann Robbins and David Loy are planning a next incarnation for the property, where activists and others can strengthen their spiritual foundations and those with already well-established meditative practices can draw the inspiration needed to up their game as activists.

Robbins deftly sidestepped the question of whether he saw the need for such a facility as being perhaps greater — at least in Boulder County — since Nov. 8, when President Donald Trump was elected despite heavy opposition locally.

“It’s affirming the fact that as people we need to be the agents of change,” said Robbins. “We can’t depend on the government to do anything for us. So part of ecodharma is encouraging people to use meditation and spiritual practice as a foundation for activism, so that activism — whether it’s eco-activism or social activism — isn’t based in anger or fear, but is based in wisdom and compassion.”

Loy, a speaker and writer well-known in the ecodharma community who lives in Niwot, came only a little bit closer to casting the center’s mission as carrying heightened urgency in the wake of the presidential election.

“I think it was a great idea before,” said Loy, who recently gave a talk titled The Bodhisattva Path in the Trump Era. “And, it’s an even greater idea now.”

Almost $1M needed by June

Schmoll, who helped pass legislation to protect columbine as the state flower, never married and spent her summers at what she called Range View Ranch, and lived the rest of the time in a small frame home in Ward, where she was a longtime member of the town council.

And, she had an activist background herself. According to documents at Boulder’s Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Schmoll earned a biology degree at the University of Colorado in 1913, then secured a teaching position at Vassar College in New York. There, she worked to obtain the right to vote for women and was considered something of a celebrity, because she had already voted in Colorado.

In 1986, she was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.

Schmoll died at a Denver nursing home in 1990 at the age of 99. In the 1970s, she had donated the Range View Ranch to the Christian Science Church, which has used it as a semi-private guest lodge since. Schmoll stipulated that it was only to be sold by the church to a nonprofit. A purchase by the EcoDharma Retreat Center would satisfy that prerequisite.

“I have to say I was really astonished” upon seeing the land last summer, Loy said. “I’m still astonished, if I am honest. It’s an incredible piece of land, you know, just a half hour or so from north Boulder.

“I just thought it was impossible (to acquire), until I realized the Nature Conservancy, they have an easement, that keeps the price down. And the Christian Scientists in Boston were really interested and sympathetic to what we’re doing. They’re going out of their way to make it affordable for us.”

Of course, even in the spiritual world, the material still matters. Accordingly, efforts to get the center off the ground include a fundraising drive by its leadership aimed to scare up $940,000 by June.

Of that sum, $440,000 is needed to complete the land purchase. Partners will also need another $500,000 for physical improvements, including $160,000 to remodel the lodge and kitchen, $85,000 to replace the well and septic and $95,000 for a staff house remodel.

“We are trying to raise the money, but the other contingency is that this property is not really zoned for the use that it has been used for since 1939, when it was built as a guest lodge. Boulder County didn’t really have zoning back then,” Robbins said. “So, even though our use is the same, we have to go through a process with the county, because we want to make changes to the buildings and get septic-smart.”

The property has three structures on it now: the main lodge, the original homestead cabin that dates back to the late 19th century and a barn that is between the cabin and lodge in age.

“The buildings are historic and really beautiful,” Robbins said. “They’re beautiful … we don’t want to make them ugly.”

And, since Loy and Robbins are seeking landmark designation for the buildings from Boulder County, it’s highly doubtful they ever will be.

“They haven’t applied yet but we have met with them,” said Denise Grimm, a senior planner in Boulder County land use department and staff member of the county’s Historic Preservation Advisory Board.

“When they were looking at purchasing the property, they wanted to start getting our feedback. And so we had a subcommittee of the Historic Preservation Advisory Board meet on site, and they took a tour with us.

“And we have done some preliminary research on the history of the property, and we felt it would qualify for landmark designation, and so that’s something they are preparing an application toward.”

The restrictions conveyed by the conservation easement granted by Schmoll to the Nature Conservancy on Nov. 17, 1976, cover 167 acres of the tract.

“The conservation easement on the Range View Ranch is one of the first conservation easements granted in the state and the first conservation easement in Colorado held by the Nature Conservancy,” said Nancy Fishbein, director of land protection for the Nature Conservancy in Boulder.

That easement, along with the county landmark designation rules requiring that any structural upgrades be compatible in character, should combine to preserve the Schmoll property in much the fashion it is still seen today.

Need ‘never been greater’

Robbins and Loy have for several years led wilderness meditation retreats in locations ranging from Rocky Mountain National Park to stretches of the Colorado River and Green River in Colorado and Utah, the Maroon Bells wilderness and closer to home near Jamestown, through their enterprise, Impermanent Sangha.

“David and I led a retreat last year in the Maroon Bells for 10 or 11 days. We had over 30 people from around the country,” Robbins said. “Half were eco-activists — some of them professional or full time — and half were longtime dharma practitioners, or meditation practitioners.

“We trained the activists in spiritual practice to help them in their mediation, and we were also encouraging the (meditation) practitioners to become more active, in whatever way they may want.”

But after staging such retreats around the west, Robbins said, “David and I started talking about, wouldn’t it be nice if we had our own center locally, and did not have to create the logistics and a location?” Robbins said. “It’s hard for people to fly in, and then get to all these far-flung places.”

They are hoping that their planned retreat on the former Schmoll property, just 30 minutes northwest of Boulder, can be that center, enabling spiritual seekers and activists to recharge and reconnect to the natural world, without having to go so far afield.

In addition to the programs Robbins and Loy envision offering at the center, it would also be their intent to rent out the facility to others. They believe that a hoped-for low debt service will enable them to do so at affordable rates.

And although the name EcoDharma certainly puts its Buddhists roots front and center, it could be made available to spiritual groups of many stripes, or even clients from outside the spiritual realm, such as a veteran’s group, they said.

“It would be a really good retreat space for local groups on the Front Range, and there are a lot of Buddhist groups and other spiritual groups that would do retreats up there and could bring people in from all over the country to do retreats there,” Robbins said. “And then, when we want to do one, we will rent it through Impermanent Sangha.”

Sue Reed, a sustainability advocate working for a public interest nonprofit organization in Boston, was part of the Maroon Bells retreat offered by Impermanent Sangha last summer. She’s very enthusiastic about the plans for the old Range View Ranch.

And count Reed as one who feels that with Trump taking up residence at the White House, the need for a meditative retreat offering stronger connectivity to the natural world is now even greater.

“Absolutely, the need has never been greater and more palpable,” she said. “It’s interesting, because of some of the changing dynamics in the politics and beyond, even how people are relating with each other in the U.S.,” Reed said.

Trump’s election, she added, “has had an interesting silver lining, of spurring people of different backgrounds and different interests to try to connect and work together. That requires breaking down some walls and barriers. And, the kind of mindfulness practices David and Johann speak to are incredibly powerful in that regard.”

Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan

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