An open letter to Red McCombs

I believe it is appropriate to personally petition Mr. McCombs and his daughter Marsha M. Shields, asking them to completely reconsider their out-of-date plans for a mountain village at Alberta Park, high on Wolf Creek Pass in Southwest Colorado. I encourage others to send their own thoughtful and constructive petitions on behalf of themselves, Alberta Park and all the wildlife and biology that can’t speak for itself.

Dear Mr. McCombs,

We’ve met a couple times. Once was in Creede, at your 2005 Village at Wolf Creek presentation. I was passing out my No-VWC pamphlet and though we never got close, we did share a couple eye-to-eyes during the many speeches. Then at Congressman Salazar’s 2010 (Adam’s State College) roundtable in Alamosa.

You walked up to me and accepted my flier, then you surprised me by extending your hand and I was honored to shake it. Not much was said, just two guys sizing each other up and walking away. I honestly cherish the memory since it made you a real person to me and not some distant cartoon.

Given Judge Matsch’s decision and the Village at Wolf Creek land trade being nullified, I feel it’s a good time to personally explain why I’ve been dogging your project and to ask that you and your daughter stop to consider Alberta Park as the irreplaceable biological treasure that it is.

You have millennia-old fens scattered throughout the area that are among the healthiest examples of such fens remaining in Colorado. The surrounding watershed, the complex underground hydrology provide a real service – lacing it with trenches and foundations and tainted runoff will destroy that, no way around it.

The Rio Grande River needs these sorts of wetlands for snow storage and water-filtering chores and to help moderate water release, thus helping summer flows last longer. All of this has created habitat for an extensive wildlife community including the elusive lynx. Alberta Park also provides a critically important wildlife corridor between the La Garita and Weminuche wilderness areas.

What’s important and needs stressing is what Federal Judge Matsch made clear: The land’s intrinsic value has standing and the public’s input is appropriate and must be heeded – and valid issues must be resolved, not sidestepped.

I lived in Silverton, Colo., from 1979 to ’86 at elevation 9,318. I know firsthand that high-altitude living has its challenges. It requires a hardy character and a healthy body. We are not built for extended living in thin air and harsh, cold conditions. Some do fine, others find that with the years an assortment of minor aliments develop into major issues. Most leave.

Consider your VWC business plan: to build a happy residential village for rich people of leisure. At Alberta Park? Basically on the Continental Divide. How much time have any of your developers and boosters actually spent at Alberta Park? How many days and nights have they lived up there to get a sense for the appropriateness of inviting families and retirees to invest savings and lives into that location which earns a “Continental Subarctic Climate” rating?

I’m not saying it isn’t wonderful. Remember the adage “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” and you’re good to go. I arrived at Alberta Park one day mid-June, a sunny “warm” day and had a nice walk, yet the wind made it impossible to sit outside to read a book in any sort of comfort.

A campfire to stare at before going to sleep was likewise out of the question. Rather than the stars, I chose my camper shell for the night’s canopy. In the morning I did take a few minutes to burn some spruce bark beetle dead-fall out of curiosity. Yipes, for the next few years, least until all those twigs and most of those trees fall, it’s going to be a firestorm tinder box throughout the bark beetle ravaged Rio Grande National Forest.

It’s creepy seeing the many fallen trees and watching standing dead swaying in the frequent wind gusts, knowing one could snap in an instant. No place I’d want to spend much time in.

From other visits and another campover my impression is that the wind blows incessantly. Go figure, that slope above Alberta Park goes right up to the Continental Divide at over 11,000 feet. Why would we expect calm afternoons, or evenings, or mornings, or days?

Mr. McCombs, aside from the construction challenges, there are issues of law enforcement, fire protection, medical services, power, fuel, IT and sewer infrastructure involved with your proposed village. Everyone is demanding tremendous outlays of cash just to adequately study and plan for, let alone implement, these things – for a residential/ vacation real estate speculation in subarctic weather conditions?

It’s not the ’80s and ’90s any more, no sir. There is no pot of gold behind this Village at Wolf Creek dream, only more financial losses, along with human and ecological misery.

Speaking of human costs, what about your legacy, Mr. McCombs? Right now, thanks to this decades-long Alberta Park struggle, with its political intrigues and lost court battles, many see you as a development- fixated Texan land robber out to despoil a valuable natural (some would say national) resource, come what may.

Please step back to look at the bigger picture. Think of the Rio Grande River that flows through your beloved Texas. If the health of that river matters to you, then geophysical reality makes preserving the purity of its source waters a major priority. Your development company holds and endangers a keystone parcel of that source-watershed.

Pursuing a land-preservation option for your Alberta Park parcel of heartaches, headaches and self-pilfering would transform your problem into a positive contribution to society and to your memory. Please give it some consideration.

Peter Miesler writes from near Durango, Colo., and maintains the blog NO-VillageAt-, where you can find information supporting claims made in this letter.

Below are some addresses for Billy Joe “Red” McCombs and his daughter Marsha Shields:

McCombs Foundation, Inc. c/o Mr. Billy Joe ‘Red’ McCombs Re. Village at Wolf Creek 755 E. Mulberry, Ste. 600 San Antonio, Texas 78212-6013

Koontz McCombs Construction, LTD c/o Marsha McCombs Shields 755 E Mulberry, Ste. 100 San Antonio, Texas 78212

For information about the Village at Wolf Creek planning team, see

From Peter Miesler.