Interviews

Founders of Rocky Mountain Land Library Start Another Chapter

Buffalo Peaks Ranch, home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library.
Buffalo Peaks Ranch, home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library. Rocky Mountain Land Library
In a state filled with remarkable stories, it's hard to top the tale of the Rocky Mountain Land Library, co-founded by Jeff Lee and Ann Martin, longtime booksellers for the Tattered Cover.

Back in the ’90s, while on a book-buying trip for the store, they came upon Gladstone's Library at St Deiniol’s, a residential library in Wales. That visit was the start of their dream to create a residential library in Colorado — one that focused on people and the land. The dream has grown since that trip, and the Rocky Mountain Land Library is now housed on a ranch in Park County, as well as in a warehouse in Globeville.

Just this past month, Lee and Martin officially donated the books they have been gathering for almost three decades to the Land Library, a collection valued at more than $600,000. We caught up with Lee to ask him more:

How did two booksellers acquire more than 40,000 books, plus a 95-year lease at a historic Colorado ranch?

Wow, that’s a long story, and one that’s about many more people than Ann and I! But as for the 40,000 books, a big part of that can be explained by the fact that Ann and I have worked at the Tattered Cover Book Store for more than thirty years. With that daily immersion in the world of books, the Land Library has grown, book by book, year after year.

Once Ann and I committed to the idea of a residential library, we also decided to take the first step by actually buying the books themselves. We felt that it was important to make the Land Library real, from the very start.

But you only donated the books a few weeks ago?

Right. The books were always meant for the Land Library — we just felt it was time to make it official.

click to enlarge
Ann Martin and Jeff Lee at the ranch.
Rocky Mountain Land Library
Okay, so you gathered a book collection valued at more than $600,000, but how did the Land Library acquire Buffalo Peaks Ranch?

Well, other than the books, we’ve never had much money behind us. We definitely could never even think of purchasing a 1,500-acre ranch, especially one that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But by working with Park County and the City of Aurora (the ranch’s owner), we were able to sign a 95-year lease at Buffalo Peaks Ranch. We are definitely in it for the long haul!

We’re already planning our most ambitious summer of ranch renovation and programs, coming up in 2019. We hope everyone will stay tuned for that!

Back to the books for a minute. Last spring, Land Library volunteers moved over 1,400 boxes of books to a new library/warehouse in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood. What will we find when we start opening those boxes?

I think everyone will find great books — both eye-opening and inspiring — and there will be lots of surprises, too. The core of the Land Library’s collection has always been about people and the land. That takes in natural history, a range of environmental issues, and Native American history, literature, poetry, art and more. The Land Library’s books are also rooted in the diverse cultures that define where we all live. We’ve also sought out titles that help us live lighter on the land. In short, we hope the Land Library’s books will be used as tools for all of us as we move forward.

One other thing I should mention: There’s a certain tone that we’ve always tried to strike with the books we’ve gathered. Plenty of our titles challenge us to do better, and to fix the harm our way of living inflicts on the earth. We need those books!

But even more of the Land Library’s books are about the beauty and endless fascination of the natural world. Here’s a simple & brilliant quote from Jeff Bridges, one that fired up our current end-of-the-year Fundraising Campaign:

“It’s natural to love the earth, so you don’t have to be motivated to save it out of fear, but rather because you love the gift of life and the planet.”

That’s the feeling we hope the Land Library will foster, from Buffalo Peaks Ranch to Denver’s Globeville neighborhood.

Last question: What are you reading now?

For some reason, I’ve been reading a lot of British nature writers lately. I finished up Helen Jukes’s beekeeping memoir, A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings (I loved it!), and now I’m reading Horatio Clare’s winter journal, The Light in the Dark. I’m really liking that book – it’s helping me to get a fresh outlook on our season of snow and cold!

This Q&A was reprinted with permission from the Rocky Mountain Land Library's website.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.