Saturday, June 17, 2017

Open Letter to Mr. McCombs and Marsha Shields, please reconsider your intentions.

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 McCombs and his daughter Marsha M. Shields, asking them to completely reconsider their out of date plans for a mountain village at Alberta Park. I encourage others to send their own thoughtful and constructive petitions on behalf of yourself, Alberta Park and all the wildlife and biology going on that can’t speak for itself.  
(It was suggested that my letter lacked an appropriate ending.  Upon reflection, they were right.  Revised June 20th.)

Open letter to Mr. McCombs and family, 
written while visiting Alberta Park earlier this week.


Dear Mr. McCombs and Marsha Shields,

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.

Scattered throughout your parcel you have millennia old fens 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 that valid issues must be resolved not sidestepped.

Beyond environmental concerns, it happens I lived in Silverton Colorado from ‘79 to ’86, elevation 9,318’. I know first hand 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 (70% compared to sea level’s 100%) and harsh cold conditions. 

Some do fine, others find that with the years an assortment of minor aliments develop into major issues, the price for the pleasure of living in Silverton’s wonderfully unique yet unavoidably harsh environment - 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 yesterday mid June, 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 camp fire 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. This 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 till all those twigs and most of those trees fall, it’s going to be a firestorm tinder box throughout the bark beetle ravaged RGNF. 

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

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

Mr. McCombs, not even considering the construction challenges, there’s law enforcement, fire protection, medical services, power and fuel and IT and sewer infrastructure. Everyone demanding tremendous outlays of cash just to adequately study and plan for, let alone implement. For a residential/vacation real estate speculation in subarctic weather conditions? 

It’s not the ‘80s and ‘90s anymore, 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 little more than a development fixated Texan wheeler dealer 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 than geophysical reality makes preserving the purity of its source waters a major priority. Your LMJV 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 LMJV problem into a positive contribution to society and to your memory. Please give it some consideration.

Respectfully yours,

Peter Miesler

aka citizenschallenge


Contacting Billy Joe ‘Red’ McCombs and Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture is a challenge.  After much internet searching I still can’t find a physical address for Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture.  They do have a contact link:

For information about the Village at Wolf Creek planning team,

At nearly 90 Mr. McCombs has relinquished responsibility for the day to day operation of his business empire to his daughter Marsha.

Marsha McCombs Shields (daughter and business partner) is dealer principal of McCombs Automotive, president of the McCombs Foundation, and CEO of Koontz-McCombs Construction, Ltd.

Billy Joe ‘Red’ McCombs and Marsha Shields

McCombs Foundation, Inc.
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

Supporting information for this letter can be found at:


  1. I wanted to get some professional verification that I wasn’t mischaracterizing fens lands and received the following more detailed (though I believe consistent with my description) overview along with some more suggested reading. Since this is a politically charged situation I promised I would not share any names when I made my request, so won’t.

    Response: “The first statement I would change slightly.

    The surrounding watershed, complex underground hydrology, and specific water chemistry are needed for the fens to function properly.

    Fens are a non-renewable resource and a "Resource Category 1" (no mitigation for loss of fens) (USDI Fish & Wildlife Service 1999).

    Ditches in fens cause the water table to drop and subsequent loss of fen vegetation, drying of peat, and a change in the system from accumulating to a decomposing system (Austin & Cooper 2015).”

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Peatland Mitigation Policy Considerations
    January 1999
    Regional Policy on the Protection of Fens
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Region 6

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Fens Mapping for the Rio Grande National Forest
    April 2006
    Warner College of Natural Resources,
    Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

    Report Prepared for:

    Colorado Natural Heritage Program
    Monte Vista, Colorado 81144

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Persistence of high elevation fens in the Southern Rocky Mountains, on Grand Mesa, Colorado, U.S.A.

    Wetlands Ecology and Management
    June 2016, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 317–334
    Gay Austin, David J. Cooper

  2. "Fens Mapping for the Rio Grande National Forest"
    April 2006


    The Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) covers nearly two million acres within the Rio Grande Headwaters River Basin in south central Colorado. The diverse geography of the RGNF created an equally diverse set of wetlands that provide important ecological services to both RGNF and lands downstream. Organic soil wetlands known as fens are an irreplaceable resource that the U.S. Forest Service has determined should be managed for conservation and restoration. Fens are defined as groundwater-fed wetlands with organic soils that typically support sedges and low stature shrubs. In the arid west, organic soil formation can take thousands of years. Long-term maintenance of fens requires maintenance of both the hydrology and the plant communities that enable fen formation.

    In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service released a new planning rule to guide all National Forests through the process of updating their Land Management Plans (also known as Forest Plans). The RGNF is the first National Forest in Colorado to revise its Forest Plan under the current guiding policy. A component of the new planning rule is that each National Forest must conduct an assessment of important biological resources within its boundaries. Through the biological assessment, biologists at the RGNF identified a need to better understand the distribution and extent of fen wetlands under their management. To this end, U.S. Forest Service contracted Colorado State University and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) to map all potential fens within the RGNF.

    Potential fens in the RGNF were identified from digital aerial photography and topographic ...