Wild in the Hills

Crested Butte Wildflower Fest kicks off its 33rd Year

By Dawne Belloise

Since 1986, the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival (CBWF) has been educating and guiding flower and nature lovers through the phenomena of the area’s prolific blooms.

The festival takes place July 5 through July 14 with more than 200 wildflower-based programs. It’s the height of wildflower season and this year has an incredibly stunning display with all species and colors in abundance. It’s easy to see why Crested Butte is the officially designated Wildflower Capital of Colorado.

The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival features an array of events that goes beyond blossom gazing to encompass birding and butterflies, all media of art—from block printing, water colors, plein air and journaling to photography workshops and jewelry making—and garden tours and lectures in geobotany with scientists from the Rocky Mountain Biological Labs (RMBL). There are hikes, walks, and the ever-popular SUV tours, and treks to help you learn to identify the wild edibles and how to use them in culinary arts and medicinal uses.

With the epic winter and late snows, it’s an exceptional year for many species, including the lupines that are in their peak of purple-ness now around the lower elevations and climbing up to higher elevations as the snow melts. Along the roads and mountainsides, the columbines are clustered with larkspur and fields of alpine sunflowers are stretched out over the viewscapes.

Also, the deep snows are still in the high country so many roads and passes that are usually open this time of year are impassable. The upside is that flowering will be greatly delayed higher up, which opens the hope for an opportunity to see some of the typically early blooming wildflowers, like glacier lilies and spring beauties, later into the summer when the snow finally melts—if it melts at all. One sign that it’s a good year for flowers is that hummingbird feeders aren’t as busy because the hummingbirds are feasting on the wildflowers.

Poster Party and other events

Tuesday, July 9 is the CBWF Members Appreciation shindig. Festival members mingle with the CBWF officials and staff and meet this year’s poster artist, Ben Strauss. Native bee expert Paige Embry will give a talk about the fascinating bumblebees of the area. And, of course, there’ll be complimentary cocktails and appetizers along with door prizes. The event is free for all festival members.

New this year are the children’s programs, such as “Take a Walk on the Wildflower Side,” where wee ones enjoy wildflowers, stories and tea time. There’s a wildflower and butterfly tour taking kids out into a “Burst of Butterflies.”

New and complimentary speaking events include a specific look at alpine wildflowers and a talk about our native bees and their crucial relationship with the wildflowers. One of the favorite events of Wildflower Fest goers is the garden tours. The Townie Garden Tour and Picnic Lunch will have townie bikes, so now you can get around like a local and explore the neighborhood gardens for the tours. Another tour, the Garden Tour with Wine and Chocolate, sounds delicious and will certainly book up fast. There are also Historic Garden Tours, led by longtime local Glo Cunningham.

The Westside Wildflowers of Mt. Crested Butte session takes participants to the northwest side of Mt. Crested Butte toward Snodgrass.

One can choose to learn about how the Crested Butte Land Trust is in negotiations for an exchange with the U.S. Forest Service to acquire the Long Lake parcel in the CBWF program, Long Lake Blooms and Views. The Crested Butte Land Trust will be speaking about their endeavors in conservation on July 11. Artists of all backgrounds can relish time outdoors painting plein air with local watercolor artist Suzanne Pierson on July 6. No experience is necessary in this first-time-offered class.

Most exciting is the new wildflower preservation campaign CBWF has initiated with the assistance of the Gunnison County Met Rec. The program is an outreach to visitors in order to communicate the importance of leaving the wildflowers undisturbed. Armed with printed information, brochures and advertisements in the Crested Butte News, the campaign aims to educate visitors and get their attention with the catchy tagline, “If you love me, leave me for the bees.”

The CBWF expressed deep gratitude and appreciation for the Gunnison County Met Rec for stepping up and showing the love for such an important issue.

It’s showtime

The wildflowers are abundant and just beginning their amazing performance as they climb up from the lower elevations to the high country. Pick up a copy of local author Kathy Darrow’s book, Wild About Wildflowers: Extreme Botanizing in Crested Butte, grab yourself a map, pack your rain gear and lunch, plenty of water and sunscreen—and don’t forget the mosquito spray because they’re hungry this time of the year and especially bountiful with all the moisture—and set out to discover the wildflowers.

You needn’t go far, as some of the best shows are just on the outskirts of town and you can walk there. Head for the Lower and Upper Lower Loops for an easy hike with superb views. The area around Peanut Lake is always delightful. Take a drive to Gothic and visit the RMBL visitor center, and grab an ice cream or an excellent cappuccino at their Science Café next door. Heading up Kebler and Ohio Passes will be stunning as well. But better yet, it’s even more fun to share the experience and gain a deeper knowledge from one of the Wildflower Festival tours because their instructors and guides are well-versed in whichever event you sign up for.

But wherever you hike or drive, in this impossibly beautiful landscape you can’t go wrong on any path you choose to take here in Crested Butte. Most important, it’s imperative that wildflower admirers know not only to stay on the roads when driving, and not drive onto delicate grounds, fields or private property —especially up at Rocky Mountain Biological Lab—but also about the significance of not picking the wildflowers. Because when people pick the flowers, they’re diminishing the next generation of plants and blooms and taking wildlife nutrients from deer, bear, bees and other pollinators—whatever eats those flowers or whatever eats what’s eating the flowers, it’s all connected in a cycle.

So please, enjoy our wildflowers—but leave them where they belong: In the wild. And leave the wilderness as you found it, with no trace of your having been there.

For more information and a full schedule, description of events, to register or become a member, visit the website at crestedbuttewildflowerfestival.com or call the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival office at (970) 349-2571. The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival headquarters during the Wildflower Fest week is at their offices in the historic Depot, 716 Elk Avenue.

For more information on the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, their events, lectures and research in Gothic, check them out online at rmbl.org.

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