Sunday, March 22, 2009

The financial soundness of the Village at Wolf Creek dream

The following was printed in the
April 2009 Four Corners Free Press

Once again we’re hearing officials proclaim: “The fundamentals of our economy are sound.” Sound ? Our economic fundamentals are based on ever increasing profit & consumption, this on our shrinking planet. What is fundamentally sound about that?

While all the attention seems to be on the finances and banking ~ we are overlooking our biosphere. You know, that web of earth, water, air & life that is our global life support system? Society has not only been engaged in a grand global climate experiment ~ but we also depleted & polluted planet earth’s resource base at an astounding speed. Our global biosphere is ill and undergoing an epic transition like nothing before in human history. One that includes, but goes way beyond, climate change.

Today’s challenge is how to transition from a resource gobbling society to a sustainability focused community. Nothing will be easy about it, but reality doesn't leave us and our kids any other choice.

We have an excellent local example of this dilemma between the tunnel visioned corporate dreams of yesteryear and our new world situation over on the other side of Wolf Creek Pass.

The saga began in the glory years of the Reagan Administration. In 86, a mega wheeler dealer offered the Rio Grande National Forest the deal of a lifetime: a whole bunch of high desert sagebrush land for around 360 acres of nearly pristine high mountain wetlands in the middle of the RGNF.

Such a Land Swap Proposal goes through National Forest Service channels with a decision being made at the regional level. That’s because they have the greatest expertise regarding the actual parcels of land and impacts of potential sales. Not surprisingly the RGNF rejected the swap ~ because it would have been a horrible trade for RGNF and America’s land trust.

However, given Reagan Administration connections, all was not lost for the corporate dream. Forest Service bureaucrats in Washington shocked many by overturning the rregional decision and OK’ing the land swap of the jewel called Alberta Park in the middle of a massive protected watershed, for sage land. The bureaucrats were gracious enough to shave it down to a little under 300 acres. For a more detailed description see the February 5, 2006 Denver Post story by, Mike Soraghan entitled: “Wolf Creek Development Tangled with Political Ties”

After acquiring the land, Mr. Red McCombs and his joint venture proposed a “Village” of 10,000 people at 10,000 feet elevation, in the middle of this unblemished Rio Grande River Watershed. To make a long story short, after many years of struggle, that development plan was shot down and blessedly buried this past year. (for the full story visit

Yet here we are two decades after the VWC brainstorm and the pipe dream continues to smolder. Seemingly oblivious to what’s going on at ground level Red’s joint venture has hired a new developer. Recently, they refurbished their obsolete website promising a new Village proposal was on the way.

Everyone agrees this land is a fantastic, nearly pristine watershed. It sustains a vast range of life forms, from the rare "fens" environment which comprises much of the inholding and functions as a magnificent water purification & storage resource, to wildlife of all sorts, including the federally threatened lynx.

Not to be overlooked is our changing climate. Experts of many persuasions say we should prepare for a drier Four Corners. So, what is “sound” about wanting to replace a productive watershed with a speculative, water guzzling luxury resort, in a time when our mountains are saturated with unsold luxury vacation dwellings? We don’t need more empty houses. We need clean water. It’s even more important than oil.

The revamped Village at Wolf Creek website claims: “Their new team specializes in exclusive, environmentally sensitive developments and works in sustaining the environment and nature as an integral part of their philosophy.” Glossy words, but what do they mean? How much environmental awareness and expertise do these Texas lowlanders have? Are they aware of what actually goes on up at Alberta Park? What do they have to say about the integral biology of that “undeveloped parcel”? Do they appreciate that there’s more there than a site plan, pretty drawings and dreams of profit?

I submit that Alberta Park and its surrounding watershed, on the lee side of Wolf Creek Pass, should be treated as a National Water Resource Security Item. One that deserves the utmost protection.

A great president once said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!” Mr. Red McCombs, given the real problems facing our towns, agriculture and water supplies why not allow Alberta Park to become the Red McCombs Watershed Preserve, dedicated to all down stream kids yet to be born?

If you think it sounds like a good idea, please share those thoughts with the Austin, Texas developer himself: Mr. Clint Jones ~ 512-402-1400 ~ Even better there’s the Mineral County Commissioners: William Philbern, Jr., and Karl Kolisch. These guys are going to be the decision makers. They can be reached at: 719-658-2331 or by email via: .

I realize the permitting process is county business. However, considering the far reaching effects of any destruction, (er development), to that watershed ~ it is appropriate for citizens throughout the region to share their concerns regarding Mr. McCombs’ Texas based joint venture. Please help the Mineral County Commissioners realize what an important resource Alberta Park is. Just as it stands ~ without any destructive development to muck up its intricate life sustaining workings.