Remembering Dr. Beidleman

This article first appeared in the Friend of Garden of the Gods newsletter, the FOGGHorn, Fall of 2014. It was written by Melissa Walker and is posted here with permission. See Dr. Beidleman’s full obituary here. As was his wish, there will be no funeral service. Instead, a “Celebration of Life” ceremony will be held on October 12, 2014 at 9:00 AM at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His ashes are to be scattered. Condolences can be sent c/o Carol Beidleman,

This column is dedicated to the
Legacy of Dr. Richard G. Beidleman,
Professor Emeritus, Colorado College

Remembering Dr. Beidleman
by Melissa Walker

Dr. Richard Beidleman was one of the most important people in the history of Garden of the Gods Park. He died on August 7 at the age of 91 at his California home. We have Dr. Beidleman to thank for saving the Garden’s magnificent Gateway Rocks view and the property that is now Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, and for the fact that Garden of the Gods is a National Natural Landmark.
In the late 1960s, the 40 acres that comprise the Garden’s main east entrance were almost sold to a developer to become high-density housing. Those acres are part of the Park’s world-famous view of the Gateway Rocks and Pikes Peak as seen from the Visitor and Nature Center, and are part of Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site—now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The land was saved because Dr. Beidleman cared so much that he put up his own personal money as earnest money. He stalled the sale long enough to work with other citizens to find funding to purchase the acreage so that it could be saved as parkland. Because of Dr. Beidleman’s tenacious leadership and successful efforts to secure funding, the property was spared from development.
Dr. Beidleman also researched and authored the detailed document that convinced the Department of the Interior to designate the Garden of the Gods as a National Natural Landmark in 1971. In that document, Dr. Beidleman wrote the inspiring description of the Garden that endures and is often quoted:

“Here is, perhaps, the most striking contrast between plains and mountains in North America, with respect to biology, geology, climate and scenery.”

Dr. Beidleman was my biology professor at Colorado College in the early 1970s, and we stayed in touch after my graduation as I began my career as a park interpreter. Although Dr. Beidleman was a nationally acclaimed author, biologist and naturalist, he always made time to speak to local Colorado Springs groups. He led hundreds of field trips and presented countless programs about the ecology, flora, fauna and pioneer naturalists of the Pikes Peak Region. Even after he retired from Colorado College and moved to California to continue his natural history research, he returned to Colorado every summer to lead field studies in the mountains he loved.
The last program that Dr. Beidleman presented for the Garden of the Gods was during the Park’s 100th Anniversary Celebration in 2009. On June 19th, he presented the Centennial Lecture entitled “More Than Just A Garden.” He challenged the audience to continue to preserve the extraordinary “Plains to Peaktops” ecology of the Pikes Peak Region and to protect the Garden’s plant habitats and wildlife.
For those of you who were fortunate to participate in Dr. Beidleman’s programs or field trips, you will recall his energetic voice and zest for life. If you went on a bird walk with Dr. Beidleman, you would not simply learn how to identify a bird—let’s say a Steller’s Jay—you would also learn about the pioneer naturalist Georg Steller who named it, and learn the bird’s call, its habitat, behavior and nesting site. Dr. Beidleman was truly a Master Teacher who made learning a fun adventure.
Whenever I see a Colorado Blue Columbine, I remember that Edwin James found and named the flower in 1820 when he was exploring this region with the Stephen Long Expedition. I will remember because one summer Dr. Beidleman led our class to the exact location described in Edwin James’s journal and we saw beautiful Blue Columbines blooming in the same location.
Whenever I hear the call of a White-breasted Nuthatch, I will remember learning the sound of that tiny bird from Dr. Beidleman. When I marvel at the White-throated Swifts swirling above North Gateway Rock, I will remember Dr. Beidleman. I will remember that when Dr. Beidleman concluded his Centennial Lecture on June 19, 2009, he quoted William Cullen Bryant and urged all of us to “Go forth under the open sky and listen to Nature’s teachings.”

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